Virgin Galactic have announced that WhiteKnightTwo's third test flight has been carried out successfully.
The flight took place at dawn on Wednesday 25 March, and was, say the company, 'another great step forward'.
It was also the longest, fastest and highest to date, going up to around 20,000 feet.
During the two and a half hours of the flight, pilot Pete Siebold carried out seven tests including in-flight engine restarts and evaluation of handling qualities. He took the plan up to a speed of 140 knots.
'This is a truly remarkable aviation vehicle,' he said afterwards. 'Although it might look unique from the ground it is not strange to fly in any way and is in fact a great piloting experience.'
The company say that the rate of testing is now scheduled to accelerate over the coming weeks.
'An all carbon composite vehicle of this size represents a giant leap for a material technology that has already been identified as a key contributor to the increasingly urgent requirement by the commercial aviation sector for dramatically more fuel-efficient aircraft.'
Taking the vision forward
Commenting on the flights, designer Burt Rutan, founder of the manufacturing company Scaled Composites, said:
'WhiteKnightTwo really is an impressive vehicle and it represents the apogee of the application of carbon composites to aerospace. All of us at Scaled are tremendously excited by its capabilities. I believe the vehicle will be developed and sold for a variety of launch applications beyond the initial requirements of Virgin Galactic.'
Virgin Galactic's founder, Sir Richard Branson, said that he was looking forward to flying in the next few weeks in the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, named after his mother Eve.
'These first flights of WK2 take the Virgin Galactic vision up another level and continue to provide tangible evidence that this most ambitious of projects is not only for real but is making tremendous progress towards our goal of safe commercial operation,' he said.
'Virgin Galactic is central to our ambition at Virgin to become the world’s leading group in the operation of energy and environmentally efficient transportation, in the air, on the ground and in space.'
The magazine Aviation Week says that the flight included further tests of the stability and handling characteristics of the carrier plane, following improvements made after the earlier flights. The aircraft's twin fins have been fitted with vortex generators to improve rudder effectiveness and directional stability, it says.
(Source: Daily Star)
Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson is preparing to launch the show into space.
The mouthy TV star, 48, wants to present it from the heavens with co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May, 46.
Richard, dubbed The Hamster, revealed: “A trip to space would be the ultimate aim for Top Gear.
“We’ll get into space by the end of Top Gear. We’ll do it!”
The president of Virgin Galactic, space flight branch of Virgin Airways, admitted he has been approached by the BBC about the possibility of presenters such as Hammond making a trip into the great unknown.
Will Whitehorn said: “It is more than feasible. Figures at the BBC have spoken with us and discussions are ongoing.
“We completed a second test flight at the weekend and we will be commercially in space by the end of next year.
“It is the next frontier in travel and it would make sense for a show like Top Gear to be the first ever to present from space.”
Richard, 39, who survived a 300mph jet-car crash in 2006, added: “It’s the biggest adventure there is, isn’t it? I want to do it.”
He also said the Top Gear team are adapting to the financial climate.
“Because of the hard times everyone is facing, we need to go ridiculous on Top Gear. We need faster cars and bigger stunts.
“Nobody can afford to go out and buy a car, so there is no real point us reviewing them. We might as well concentrate on escapism and fantasy.”
But Richard must overcome a small problem.
He revealed: “I’ve developed a massive fear of heights that I never used to have. I don’t know why. I used to be fine.”
*By last night 92% of Star readers had voted that Clarkson should NOT have apologised for calling PM Gordon Brown “a one-eyed Scottish idiot”.
"We will begin testing the SpaceShipTwo rocketplanes in August and are optimistic that we will be flying into space with passengers by the end of the year."
Rocketeer comments:Other commentators have noted that a transition from initial flight tests to commercial operations in four months seems extraordinarily optimistic, and I would have to agree. I've seen numbers that quote 50-100 test flights before commercial service, and that would mean stripping down the SS2 engine section and fitting a new CTN every 1-2 days. It may technically be doable, but it would be a very intense pace of work for a small Scaled work team.
I can only assume that the Telegraph misquoted or misunderstood what Whitehorn said. A test flight to 100km with multiple crew by the end of the year would still be cool, and somewhat more achievable.
Image credit: Bill Deaver, Mojave Desert News
Congratulations to everyone at Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic for a successful first test flight of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft prototype 'VMS Eve', a milestone achievement in the development of their suborbital space tourism system. The aircraft flew for about an hour, departing the Mojave spaceport runway at roughly 8:17 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, safely touching down at approximately 9:17 a.m. PST.
"And here we are on a Sunday morning...in a place out here in the middle of nowhere and really neat stuff is happening. It just looked beautiful," said spaceport general manager Stuart Witt. "What brings people to this desolate landscape on a Sunday morning in December is more about what forced them here. Innovation by the private sector is a void being filled because NASA deserted 90 percent of the sandbox and left it open for us to fill."
Also watching the flight was test pilot Dick Rutan, brother of Scaled Composites founder and CTO Burt Rutan. "It all went well...all the big things worked well," Rutan told SPACE.com. "Overall, 99 percent on target and everybody is really happy. You get an airplane that's this weird and get it up and get it down...and it's safe on deck."
"It will be before Christmas ... but this is a test flying program, not a calendar appointment for a celebration dance," Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn told SPACE.com. "So being more precise is difficult."
Virgin Galactic president Wil Whitehorn spoke recently at Lossiemouth Town Hall as part of a series of Moray lectures organised by SNP MP Angus Robertson. Virgin is continuing to promote the concept of using RAF Lossiemouth as a commercial base of operations for suborbital flights -- space tourist flights would run during the summer months, with microgravity research flights during the winter. Whitehorn said: “It is a realistic prospect that Lossiemouth could be a base. In principle, there is no reason why we would not have a commercial operation here.”
Earlier, Whitehorn met Moray Council convener George McIntyre, Highland and Island Enterprise chief Sandy Cummings, Scottish Environment Secretary and Moray MSP Richard Lochhead and others. He provided a briefing in Elgin before discussing prospects for facilities like a visitor centre and viewing platform with Lossiemouth Business Association members.
Rocketeer comments: The Spaceport Scotland site was created for individuals and businesses in the region to promote the idea of a spaceport, but doesn't seem to have been updated much since 2007.
More details are slowly emerging regarding Virgin Galactic's plans to use WhiteKnightTwo as an air-launch platform for an unmanned orbital microsat launch vehicle. In a speech given at RAL last week (video, Flight International report) Virgin Galactic president Wil Whitehorn said that an all-composite two-stage rocket , launched from WK2 at an altitude of 70,000ft using commercial off-the-shelf solid rocket motor technology could put a 200kg (440lb) satellite into orbit. Organisations in several European nations (believed to be France, Germany and Sweden) are reported to be interested in the launch vehicle.
Rob Coppinger reports that Whitehorn has named the microsat launcher LauncherOne. The title SpaceShipThree would be given to any manned system that Virgin chooses to build as a followup to SS2.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Virgin Galactic (VG) announced today that they will explore the use of VG’s vehicles for climate science and other research relevant to NOAA’s mission. NOAA and Virgin Galactic intend to explore a possible collaboration that ultimately would fly NOAA science instruments onboard the VG carrier vehicle and SpaceShipTwo. The first of these instruments would provide data on atmospheric composition particularly CO2 and other greenhouse gases that will increase understanding of important global climate science. Such data will also provide important in situ measurements which will help provide calibration of satellite-based atmospheric measurements.
Both NOAA and VG are interested in increasing the understanding of the basic data and processes underlying climate change. A central component of NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in Earth’s environment, and a major focus of the Virgin Group is playing its part in answering the challenge of climate change throughout its global businesses. Work conducted under this agreement during the vehicles’ test flight program would be done on a no-exchange of funds basis and in compliance with all appropriate FAA regulations. "We need data and observations to understand how our climate changes," said Retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "This affords us a new and unique opportunity to gather samples and measurements at much higher altitudes that we can usually achieve." “To my mind there is no greater or more immediate challenge than that posed by climate change,” said Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic. “It’s therefore more than fitting that the very first science to be conducted on board our new vehicles may be specifically directed at increasing our understanding and knowledge of the atmosphere and from there, to better inform our decisions as to the most effective ways of dealing with climate change.”
The new vehicles have also been designed by Scaled Composites, which was founded by legendary engineer Burt Rutan, and VG will use them to seek to make affordable, regular sub-orbital spaceflight possible for the first time.
These new vehicles will provide frequent access to suborbital space and high altitudes; understudied regions of critical importance to climate science and modelling. In particular, the VG vehicles will enable frequent access to relatively understudied regions of the Earth’s atmosphere, particularly the upper stratosphere, mesosphere and lower thermosphere. The potential collaboration with NOAA will help define the processes and parameters for successful science research onboard the vehicles.
Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic, remarked, “In the years ahead, Virgin Galactic looks forward to working with the global science community using Space Ship Two and White Knight Two as a platform for a range of research and technology demonstration missions.”