Tim Pickens, who developed the propulsion system for SpaceShip One, talks about the significance of the project.
Burt Rutan recently gave a talk at the UP Experience, a one-day creative conference in Houston, during which he offered some useful insights into suborbital spaceflight as an enabler.
Burt Rutan has posted the slides from a presentation on Commercial Space Future Opportunities.
The presentation provides some interesting insights on Rutan’s personal vision for where SpaceShip Two is going. (This personal vision does not necessarily reflect the official policies of Virgin Galactic or even Scaled Composites, from which Rutan is now retired.)
For suborbital spaceflight, Rutan envisions “multi-spaceport operations with 40 spaceships” and competing spacelines flying over 100,000 people during the first 12 years of commercial operations. Although it is not explicitly stated, we’re guessing this means competing spacelines flying spaceships developed by Scaled Composites and does not consider competing designs. (Scaled has stated, in the past, that Virgin Galactic is the launch customer for SpaceShip Two but there would be other customers in the future.)
Rutan notes that ticket prices for suborbital flights are about 1% of those for orbital flights. He expects that prices for both will come down significantly as volume increases but the ratio between the two prices will remain about the same.
Aviation Week reports that Virgin Galactic is developing a liquid-propellant engine that will ultimately replace the hybrid rocket motor used in SpaceShip Two.
This report is being treated as a revelation, but it’s not really surprising. Doug Shane of Scaled Composites spoke of such a possibility at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Responsive Access to Space Technology Exchange conference back in 2006. Shane, who later replaced Burt Rutan as president of Scaled, said that changing out hybrid motors after each flight was an acceptable way of getting the suborbital spaceflight business started but they would want to switch to a “different kind of engine” at some point.
Eight years ago today, Mike Melvill flew SpaceShip One to an altitude of 100.124 kilometers, becoming the first pilot to qualify for the FAA’s commercial astronaut wings.
In centuries to come, June 21, 2004 will be remembered as the start of the real Space Age – the era when humans finally began to open up space in large numbers.
Today, however, it will pass largely unnoticed. The so-called “New Space” groups have their big parties to celebrate the launch of Yuri Gagarin and every Apollo landing. (There’s not much new about in “New” Space.)
We won’t be celebrating today, either. It’s been eight years since the X-Prize, and commercial suborbital flights haven’t started yet. The future is behind schedule. So, today is a day to remember but not to celebrate. That will come when the work is done.
The SpaceShip Two flight-test program may be experiencing some delays, if a new article in Flight Global is accurate.
The article quotes an unnamed Virgin Galactic source saying the company would have “some drop tests” in June or July and “a lot of drop tests” in the third quarter.
That would indicate progress for SpaceShip Two, which has not flown since it entered a deep stall during its last glide flight on September 29, 2011. It would be slower progress than recently expected, however. Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides had been predicting powered flights this summer. According to the new article, powered test flights are now expected to begin around the end of the year. By interesting coincidence, that’s the same time frame in which XCOR Aerospace expects to begin powered test flights of the Lynx.
Editorial note: We are not suggesting that Virgin Galactic / Scaled Composites and XCOR are in a race. Timelines for flight test are properly dictated by engineering and safety considerations. Both organizations have shown a high degree of professionalism, and we are confident that neither will allow its engineering judgement to be compromised by a “racing” mentality.
Scaled Composites recently completed the ninth full-scale firing of the RM2 rocket motor that will power SpaceShip Two. Scaled performed a 10-second burn followed by a 58-second burn, according to the test log.
The test continued evaluation of all systems and components including pressurization, valve/injector, fuel formulation and geometry, nozzle, structure, and performance. Scaled performed the first test-firing of a full-scale RM2 in April of 2009.
Virgin Galactic has stated that it intends to begin testing motors in powered flight on SpaceShip around the middle of this year.