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Space Ship II, White Knight II - projects, flights, info

FutureSpaceTourist

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Yet more speculation about how soon VG will begin it's commercial service: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2010/11/30/5552000-will-space-tourists-fly-next-year, prompted this time by Richard Branson saying that customers will fly in 12 to 15 months. Alan Boyle rightly points out that Branson has often underestimated timescales, but only 6 weeks ago Branson was saying 18 months.

I'm sticking to Q4 2012, but I hope VG's apparently increasing confidence is based on some progress other than SS2's initial glide flights.
 

mz

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http://www.scaled.com/projects/rocketmotortwo_hot-fire_test_summaries

I don't know how much their ground test logs lag, but maybe they're gearing up for a full duration run after five full scale short ones and Branson is using "success oriented planning" or something. We know how that tends to end up in aerospace development...

I'm sceptical. I'd do quite many ground runs, since it must be quite cheap compared to exploding an SS2 in mid-air, but I don't know much about this stuff...
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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mz said:
I don't know how much their ground test logs lag
Well the last (August) entry appeared within a week or so. I agree with you, many ground tests are preferable to an issue in flight! Certainly the SpaceShipOne rocket motor was fully-qualified (full duration runs etc) before it flew and that was a more aggressive programme from a flight test pov than SS2. The rumour I've heard is that the August RM2 test was only 20s duration (that was from the same source that said there'd been a test before it was published in Scaled's log).
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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AW has a good article about the SS2 glide flights so far and how things have been going better and quicker than Scaled expected.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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Just noticed that VG have a new glossy brochure on their website: http://www.virgingalactic.com/assets/downloads/Virgin_Galactic_Brochure.pdf (5.5 MB)
They used to have one a couple of years ago, but I haven't seen anything recently. Not surprisingly the new one has pictures of the built WK2 & SS2.

Jeff Foust has just tweeted: "Virgin Galactic announces that Will Whitehorn is retiring as president in January; current CEO George Whitesides to become president & CEO." Other than Richard Branson, Will has been the public face of VG since it started. May be he just wants a change, but to me there seems to be an increasing emphasis on VG's US (rather than UK) based operations.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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SS2 had its fourth glide flight successfully today.

I'll add Scaled's log entry to this post when it's available.

Update: Scaled's log is now updated

[quote author=http://www.scaled.com/projects/whiteknighttwo_spaceshiptwo_test_summaries]
FlightWK2 Flight 47 / GF04
Date:13 Jan 11Flight Time:11 min, 34 s
SS2 Pilot: StuckySS2 CoPilot:Nichols
GS Crew:Binnie, Kalogiannis, Verderame, Maisler, Persall, Bassett, Zeitlin, Reid, Tighe, Inks

Objectives:
Clean release
Evaluate stability and control
Stall expansion
Continued flutter envelope expansion
Aft CG expansion with water ballast tank
Window heater evaluation
Pilot proficiency

Results:
All objectives achieved. Stall at aft CG. Evaluated flutter modifications to 250 KEAS. Envelope expanded to 3.8 g's. As part of the test objectives, the SS2 pilots vented water ballast just before coming in to land, which produced a visible contrail.
[/quote]

The contrail can be seen in the attached image from VG's website.
 

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FutureSpaceTourist

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Rocket motor testing is inching forward:

[quote author=http://www.scaled.com/projects/rocketmotortwo_hot-fire_test_summaries]
Fire: 06
Date: 24 March 11

Objectives:
Perform sixth full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire
Continue all systems evaluation
Continue fuel formulation evaluation
Continue nozzle evaluation
Continue motor structural evaluation
Continue Valve/Injector performance evaluation

Results:
All objectives completed. Performed increased duration hot-fire, including igniter performance, oxidizer flow and pressurization systems, data acquisition system measurements, structural evaluation, nozzle ablation, and fuel regression rate data collection. Determined stability levels.
[/quote]

Based on recent comments George Whitesides made at a conference, I believe this was planned to be a 40s duration burn. So still a bit short of the 70+s required for a suborbital flight. Hopefully they'll achieve that later this year, but at current rate of progress it's going to be a while before SS2 does a powered flight.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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SS2 had its fifth, and longest, glide flight successfully yesterday.

[quote author=http://www.scaled.com/projects/whiteknighttwo_spaceshiptwo_test_summaries]
FlightWK2 Flight 56 / GF05
Date:22 Apr 11Flight Time:14 min, 31 s
SS2 Pilot: SieboldSS2 CoPilot:Shane
GS Crew:Binnie, Kelly, Bassett,Tighe, Reid, Keller, Verderame, Maisler, Zeitlin

Objectives:
Clean release
Evaluate stability and control
Continued flutter envelope expansion
Pilot proficiency

Results:
Clean release at desired altitude. Glide test objectives complete without issues.
[/quote]

Leonard David has a report at http://www.space.com/11472-virgin-galactic-spaceshiptwo-longest-glide-test-flight.html, which includes some images credited to Bill Deaver/Deaver-Wiggins and Associates (landing one attached).
 

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FutureSpaceTourist

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Only a few days after the last one, SS2 has had its sixth glide flight:

[quote author=http://www.scaled.com/projects/whiteknighttwo_spaceshiptwo_test_summaries]
FlightWK2 Flight 57 / GF06
Date:27 Apr 11Flight Time:16 min, 7 sec
SS2 Pilot: StuckySS2 CoPilot:Alsbury
GS Crew:Binnie, Kelly, Bassett,Tighe, Reid, Glaser, Inks, Verderame, Maisler, Knupp

Objectives:
Evaluate stability and control
Continued flutter envelope expansion
Pilot proficiency

Results:
Clean release at desired altitude. Glide test objectives complete without issues.
[/quote]
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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AW has an article about the latest SS2 glide flight with a couple of bits of extra info:

[quote author=http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_channel.jsp?channel=space&id=news/asd/2011/04/29/05.xml&headline=Scaled%20Composites%20Ramps%20Up%20SS2%20Test%20Rate]
[...]
The sudden surge in testing follows several weeks of weather-related delays, and has seen release altitudes from the WhiteKnightTwo mothership raised to 51,000 ft. and beyond. The higher altitudes provide more time to continue the flutter envelope expansion that began with the third flight in November 2010.
[...]
Ground testing of the RM2 also is accelerating with preparations under way for a further round of hot-fire runs of the engine following a sixth full-scale flight design RM2 test in late March.
[...]
[/quote]
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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SS2 has had its seventh glide flight today and its first flight with the feather deployed:

[quote author=http://www.virgingalactic.com/news/item/spaceshiptwos-first-feathered-flight/]
[...]

After a 45 minute climb to the desired altitude of 51,500 feet, SS2 was released cleanly from VMS Eve and established a stable glide profile before deploying, for the first time, its re-entry or “feathered” configuration by rotating the tail section of the vehicle upwards to a 65 degree angle to the fuselage. It remained in this configuration with the vehicle’s body at a level pitch for approximately 1 minute and 15 seconds whilst descending, almost vertically, at around 15,500 feet per minute, slowed by the powerful shuttlecock-like drag created by the raised tail section. At around 33,500 feet the pilots reconfigured the spaceship to its normal glide mode and executed a smooth runway touch down, approximately 11 minutes and 5 seconds after its release from VMS Eve.

[...]
[/quote]

That makes three glide flights in less than two weeks.

[quote author=http://www.scaled.com/projects/whiteknighttwo_spaceshiptwo_test_summaries]
FlightWK2 Flight 58 / GF07
Date:4 May 11Flight Time:11 min, 5 sec
SS2 Pilot: SieboldSS2 CoPilot:Nichols
GS Crew:Binnie, Tighe, Bassett,Verderami, Kalogiannis, Persall, Zeitlin,Glaser, Knupp, Cassebeer

Objectives:
Feather evaluation
Evaluate stability and control
Flutter susceptibility testing
Pilot proficiency

Results:
All objectives achieved....Awesome flight!
[/quote]

At this rate SS2 glide testing will finish relatively soon. I wonder how long the wait before the first powered flight ...
 

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blackstar

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FutureSpaceTourist said:
That makes three glide flights in less than two weeks.
Do we know if there is any kind of FAA certification for number of flights? In other words, if they held one flight and everything worked perfectly, could they apply for certification, or do they need to perform X number of perfect flights, demonstrating all different contingencies, in order to get certified?
 

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Something of interest I noticed when I watched this was a gentle oscillation in pitch when the tail was feathered. Was this an unintended consequence, or a known but unavoidable intrinsic aerodynamic feature of the thing, or the pilot deliberately testing response in pitch with the tail "up"?

If it's "part of the deal", it should be interesting to see what passengers think. This would be totally unacceptable in a commercial airliner, but at least the first generation of spaceliner passengers might be prepared to put up with it as the price of breaking new ground.
 

Grey Havoc

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Part of it might have been optical distortion.
 

Machdiamond

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Unintended (but fairly minor) consequence.

Try a different h-tail pitch trim setting in feathered mode next time (I am guessing).
 

RanulfC

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pathology_doc said:
Something of interest I noticed when I watched this was a gentle oscillation in pitch when the tail was feathered. Was this an unintended consequence, or a known but unavoidable intrinsic aerodynamic feature of the thing, or the pilot deliberately testing response in pitch with the tail "up"?

If it's "part of the deal", it should be interesting to see what passengers think. This would be totally unacceptable in a commercial airliner, but at least the first generation of spaceliner passengers might be prepared to put up with it as the price of breaking new ground.
Could be a low-speed artifact since they were testing at near-stall speed and something that won't show up in "normal" flights.

Randy
 

pathology_doc

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I agree - it seems they're nudging the low-speed edge of the envelope to see how the thing behaves. They sounded quite happy with how things went, which is not what they'd be doing if there were pitch-oscillation issues, but it seemed worthwhile to ask.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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Scaled has posted an entry in the SS2 log for the recent second feather flight. This sheds some light on the stability issue seen in the video of the first feather.

[quote author=http://www.scaled.com/projects/whiteknighttwo_spaceshiptwo_test_summaries]
Flight:61 / GF10
Date:25 May 11Flight Time:10 min, 14 sec
SS2 Pilot: StuckySS2 CoPilot:Binnie
GS Crew:Nichols, Verderame, Bassett, Bozarth, Persall, Glaser, Inks, Tighe

Objectives:
Second feather flight
Evaluate feather configuration stability with nose strakes installed
Low altitude flutter envelope expansion
Shortened runway approach and landing validation

Results:
All objectives achieved. Much improved longitudinal dynamics in the feather configuration.
[/quote]

Note that there were a further two SS2 glide flights between the two feather flights.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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The veil is lifting slightly on the state of SS2's rocket development:

[quote author=http://www.space.com/11928-virgin-galactic-spaceshiptwo-test-flights-space-tourism.html]
[...]

Clearly, the integration of the hybrid motor with SpaceShipTwo is the next big milestone. That powerhouse engine is being crafted by Sierra Nevada Corporation. Short bursts to ever-long burns of the motor during flight are being planned. The first in-flight firing is still to be determined.

"Realistically, probably around end of the year or early next year. We'll have to see how things go," Whitesides said.

Mark Sirangelo, head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems, the prime contractor for the SpaceShipTwo motors, told SPACE.com that progress is ongoing regarding development of the hybrid motor propulsion for the SpaceShipTwo program.

"Recently we conducted a firing of the motor which extended the burn duration by 30 percent and validated several of the important hardware systems," Sirangelo said. "We are preparing to shortly conduct another firing of the enhanced motor which will extend the burn duration and incorporate several additional important advances in the design.

This firing is expected to lead to final design of the motors for flight testing," he explained.
[/quote]
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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VG have finally done a full duration burn of SS2's rocket motor (RM2):

[quote author=http://www.scaled.com/projects/rocketmotortwo_hot-fire_test_summaries]
Fire: 07
Date: 25 August 11

Objectives:
Perform seventh full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire
Continue all systems evaluation
Continue fuel formulation evaluation
Continue nozzle evaluation
Continue motor structural evaluation
Continue valve/injector performance evaluation

Results:
All objectives completed. Performed 55 second, full duration hot-fire, including igniter performance, oxidizer flow and pressurization systems, data acquisition system measurements, structural evaluation, nozzle ablation, and fuel regression rate data collection.
[/quote]

Note that this duration is only about two thirds of SS1's rocket motor on its flights to space (ie > 100km) in 2004. So I assume RM2 is significantly scaled up from RM1 and/or has a higher ISP.
 

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In case you thought The SpaceShipTwo program was put to a halt (as I almost did myself) here's the latest news:

Scaled Composites was granted an experimental permit from the Federal Aviation Administration on May 23 (see here). This move that will allow it to proceed with powered flights.

No timetable has been set for the first launches carrying paying customers, but that will come after the test program is complete. More than 500 people (including actor Ashton Kutcher) have signed up with Virgin Galactic for a chance to experience weightlessness during suborbital flights.

Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites have been glide-testing their six-passenger vehicle SpaceShipTwo, which is air-launched from a twin-fuselage carrier airplane.

Work is under way to integrate the rocket motor into SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic now says it expects to make rocket-powered test flights of its passenger spaceship later this year.
 

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I just came across a very interesting account of the White Knight Two/SpaceShipTwo concept.

This is what Phil Lewis, chief engineer at J&P Technologies (a potential subcontractor, from what I understand) wrote after a visit to Scaled Composites (see attachment).

Taken from a company document found here.
 

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Grey Havoc

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Travel agency offers trip to space tourists--for $250,000 (The Asahi Shimbun)

A Tokyo-based travel agency is selling slots on a U.S. commercial space flight program for $250,000 (25 million yen) each.

Club Tourism International Inc. on Jan. 6 set up subsidiary Club Tourism Space Tours Inc., which has exclusive rights to sell the slots in Japan. Customers will join the space flight program operated by Virgin Galactic LLC of the United States that is expected to start by the end of the year.

The space tourists will experience four minutes of zero gravity during a two-hour flight that will bring them to an altitude of 100 kilometers. The spacecraft will depart from and return to an airport in New Mexico.

Club Tourism officials said 18 customers in Japan have already booked slots. The company expects 900 tourists from Japan will take part in the program over a decade.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
 

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http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/virgin-galactic-may-not-bring-passengers-into-space-1448266?

A report claims defects found in the wings of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spacecraft will delay the commercial space flight operation until at least 2015 - but reveals that even when the flights do take off, passengers may technically not be taken into outer space anyway.

A report in the Sunday Times claims to have seen the customer contract Virgin Galactic has drawn up, and in the small print it guarantees to get passengers to an elevation of "at least 50 miles."

While this is sufficient to experience weightlessness, the widely accepted boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space - called the Karman Line - lies at an altitude of 62 miles above the Earth's sea level.

Virgin Galactic said it is using Nasa's 50 mile boundary definition for space, one which was used as far back as the 1960s and as recently as 2005 to award astronaut wings to pilots who flew in the rocket-powered X-15 aircraft.

However, those flying with Virgin Galactic won't be recognised as having travelled in space by the World Air Sports Federation, with world governing body for astronautical world records, unless they pass the Karman Line.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told IBTimes UK:

"NASA and the US Air Force have a long tradition of celebrating everything above 50 miles (~80km) as spaceflight, and we look forward to joining those ranks soon as we push onward and upward. We are still targeting 100km. As we have always noted, we will have to prove our numerical predictions via test flights as we continue through the latter phase of the test program. Like cars, planes, and every other type of vehicle designed by humans, we expect our vehicle design and performance to evolve and improve over time."
 

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http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/over-a-decade-of-virgin-galactics-failed-space-age-prom-1575643484
 

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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11125641/Defiant-Sir-Richard-Branson-insists-he-will-be-in-space-by-spring-after-rocket-delays.html
 

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Grey Havoc said:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11125641/Defiant-Sir-Richard-Branson-insists-he-will-be-in-space-by-spring-after-rocket-delays.html
I don't know whether it's sad or funny that people seem to think building a completely new rocket design is as straight forward as ordering a Big Mac.
 

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I guess if Branson hadn't been so good at "selling" space back in 2004 as being just around the corner, the ten-year wait for SpaceShipTwo might not have seemed so long. Also, the SS2 program has suffered considerable delays with regards to initially publicized schedule. If you are to announce deadlines, you'd better stick to them... If they'd stayed vague and said "within ten years" it would have seemed okay... but then they may not have had the overwhelming support...
 

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Skyblazer said:
but then they may not have had the overwhelming support...
Nor all the interest free loan deposit money collected over the past decade. The time line keeps slipping. You are right that it probably wouldn't be news that the date gets pushed back if they hadn't pretended they were "18 months away" for the last 75 months.
 

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Stargazer2006

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I hope the crew was able to bail out.

Sounds like a major setback for the whole Virgin Galactic program, and with no spare airframe as a backup, I really wonder if they have anything resembling a "Plan B", even remotely.
 

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"Officials with the California Highway Patrol confirmed that one of the pilots died in the crash and the
second pilot is currently listed with major injuries."

according to the link posted by fredymac ... :(
 

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Photographer Ken Brown, who was covering the test flight, told NBC News that he saw a midflight explosion and later came upon SpaceShipTwo debris scattered across a small area of the desert. - Source
 

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http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-29857182

http://www.gizmag.com/spaceshiptwo-crash/34533/


EDIT: http://gizmodo.com/virgin-galactic-experiences-first-major-accident-possi-1653360863

RIP


"SIC ITUR AD ASTRA"
 
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