Virgin Galactic’s passenger carrying reusable space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), successfully completed its third rocket-powered supersonic flight in January 2014.
The first stage consisted of the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft lifting SS2 to an altitude around 14 000 metres. On release, SS2’s rocket motor was ignited, powering the spaceship to a planned altitude of 21 640 metres – SS2’s highest altitude to date – and at a maximum speed of Mach 1.4.
Watch SS2’s highest supersonic test flight yet…
The spaceship’s Reaction Control System (RCS) and the newly installed thermal protection coating on the vehicle’s tail booms were successfully tested.
The spaceship’s RCS will allow its pilots to maneuver the vehicle in space, permitting an optimal viewing experience for those on board and aiding the positioning process for spacecraft re-entry. The new reflective protection coating on SS2’s inner tail boom surfaces was evaluated to help maintain vehicle skin temperatures while the rocket motor is firing.
SS2’s unique feather re-entry system was also tested during the flight.
The spaceship’s propulsion system – developed by Sierra Nevada Corp – is the world’s largest operational hybrid rocket motor. Although the third test flight saw it burn for a planned 20 seconds, the system has been successfully tested in ground firings to demonstrate performance characteristics and burn time sufficient to take the spaceship and its private astronauts to space.
Sir Richard Branson and his team plan to finally put the spaceship in her natural environment of space this year.
Source: Virgin Galactic