For years, Richard Branson has been promising the world commercial spaceflight with his proposed aerospace line, Virgin Galactic. And with the advent of SpaceShipTwo, the rocket-powered vehicle designed for this end, the company has been promising to conduct a successful test flight by the end of the year. This past Wednesday, Virgin and the development company – Scaled Composites – delivered on that promise, as SS2 conducted its first fully-loaded glide test successfully and landed safe and sound.
Granted, the company has yet to test out the ship’s rocket motor, the propulsion that will be used to put the ship into the Earth’s atmosphere. However, it was the first flight where the space craft was deployed by itself, without assistance from its carrier, WhiteKnightTwo. It was also the first time the vehicle conducted a glide test with all its components and fuel tanks installed. By showing that it is capable of gliding while fully-loaded, Virgin Galactic has proven that SS2 is capable of making safe landings, which is just as important as getting into space when you think about it!
“It was also the first flight with thermal protection applied to the spaceship’s leading edges,” said Virgin in a press statement. “It followed an equally successful test flight last Friday which saw SpaceShipTwo fly in this configuration but remain mated to its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.”
Virgin also claims it intends to conduct two more glide tests before attempting a powered flight, where the rocket motor will be put to the test and the ship will finally acheive suborbital flight. And once all the bugs are ironed out, Virgin Galactic will then be able to finally offer the sub-orbital rides that have been the subject of talk for many years. One of the first to go with be Branson himself, along with five others who will travel aboard SS2 as it acheive a suborbital flight which will take it over 115,000 meters (350,000 feet) above the Earth and acheive weightlessness for the crew.