The SpaceShipTwo spacecraft VSS Enterprise, which the space tourism company Virgin Galactic has been flying on test flights attached to a huge mothership, could make its first drop flights this fall over California’s Mojave Desert for glide and landing tests, according to a company official.
“There’s a reasonable possibility that we could see the first drop flight in the fall, but as always, everything is predicated on thoroughness and safety,” Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough wrote in an e-mail. “No corners will be cut in order to achieve arbitrary deadlines.”
Virgin Galactic is developing a fleet of SpaceShipTwo spaceliners to launch paying passengers on suborbital hops into space. The spacecraft is designed to drop from a mothership, called WhiteKnightTwo, from an altitude above 15,000 meters, and fire a hybrid rocket motor to launch into suborbital space.
At $200,000 a ticket, passengers on SpaceShipTwo will experience weightlessness and glimpse the darkness of space and the view of Earth below.
The drop test will follow a series of test flights with SpaceShipTwo safely attached to its WhiteKnightTwo mothership, the most recent of which occurred in early July. That test flight marked the first crewed SpaceShipTwo flight.
In the wake of that success, Virgin Galactic is planning to push forward with further test flights of the new spacecraft. The recent crewed captive-carry test flight of the vehicle went very smoothly, the company said.
The exact schedule for future test flights, and the first commercial flights, is flexible.
“Scaled will need to evaluate the data from this recent captive carry flight before we know [when the next test will be],” Attenborough said, referring to Scaled Composites, the Mojave-based company building the vehicles. “It is true to say though that to date testing of both vehicles is progressing very smoothly.”
The first passenger flights will not occur until an exhaustive test flight program is completed and the spacecraft have won all necessary regulatory approvals, he said.