On January 10, 2014, the WhiteKnightTwo, Virgin Galactic’s beautiful “Carrier Aircraft” deployed SpaceShipTwo, a reusable space vehicle, where at an altitude of 46,000 feet, its rocket engine fired for only 20 seconds and propelled her to the intended altitude of 71,000 feet – ¼ the distance to outer space. This is a staggering altitude which only the SR-71 surpassed at an “unclassified” altitude of 86,000 feet.
This was the third successful test flight and SpaceShipTwo which also reached its intended supersonic speed of mach 1.4. Galactic Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay, accompanied in flight with Scaled Composite Test Pilot, Mark Stucky, agreed she flew brilliantly. Chief Pilot Mackay said, “All tests went well and generated vital data that will be used to further fine tune our operations.”
In an interview after the successful test flight, Sir Richard Branson said, “I couldn’t be happier to the start of the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights. 2014 will be the year we finally put our beautiful spaceship into her natural environment of space.”
The successful test flight paves the way for SpaceShipThree, which is intended take the first civilians into orbit later this year from SpacePort America, a commercial “Space Port” and SpaceShipTwo flight and training center located in New Mexico – a striking facility built specifically for the program by Virgin Galactic.
A long line of passengers wait to board the first civilian flight into earth’s upper atmosphere, each ponying up $250,000 for the trip. This shockingly is a reasonable price if you consider the costs of all other space and earth orbit vehicles. Steven Hawking is said to be first in line for the inaugural flight, accompanied by Branson, his two children and some notable Hollywood stars who have reserved seats.
Some interesting technology was applied in this reusable space vehicle, a unique pivoting wing and tail design named the “Feather Mechanism” is described as a reentry system where the twin tails of the craft tilt upward 65 degrees to allow a stable, hands free decent which doesn’t generate excessive heat from friction. In the video you can see the fuselage remaining relatively level and the wing structure rotating for ascent and descent. The only other aircraft system I can think of with any large pivoting mechanical structure directly related to aerial flight direction, besides flaps and ailerons, would be the rotating Harrier exhaust systems and ramjet rocket thrust vectors.
In addition to the next SpaceShipTwo flight, watch for some interesting details about SpaceShipTwo propulsion systems & power plants, design & material developments, payloads, fly-by-wire capabilities, interior design, anticipated service hours, intended uses in the future, plus more.
Please send me some questions and of course your comments and I’ll be happy to respond and find as many answers as I can.
For now, doesn’t it seem that aviation is again at the forefront of a new and exciting space exploration era? Hopefully one which will truly inspire a new generation of children and young adults to focus on possibilities never before imagined. Perhaps as a consequence, Virgin Galactic’s civilian space program will instill a noble spirit around the world, one that will enhance a committed reverence for our tiny planet in this pristine, infinite and unfathomable universe in which we find ourselves – just by looking out the window.
Good Luck and God’s Speed to Virgin Galactic and all its Space Adventures.
Kimberley West, for WarBirdBabe