New pilots for Virgin Galactic’s Spaceline have completed a series of check rides from Mojave, Calif, as preparations continue towards the next supersonic envelope expansion flight of the rocket-powered SpaceShipTwo (SS2) sub-orbital vehicle. Flights were in WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), built by Scaled Composites, which has been flown on at least 11 training sorties since dropping SS2 for its first powered test flight (PF01) on April 29. The two are former space shuttle astronaut and Top Gun graduate, Frederick “CJ” Sturckow, and former U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and U-2 veteran, Michael “Sooch” Masucci. Both completed check rides on June 6.
SS2 cockpit view during April 29 supersonic flight. Virgin Galactic
The second powered test flight is expected shortly, with expectations of achieving the first full sub-orbital flight in December, if not shortly before. Speaking recently at the Space Tech Expo event in Long Beach, Virgin Galactic special projects Vice President Will Pomerantz says “we are on a path to be on the edge of space by the end of the year.” More than 580 have now signed up to travel to sub-orbit on the world’s first spaceline. Speaking at the same event, Mark Sirangelo, Chairman and Vice President of Sierra Nevada Space Systems, which provides the RM2 motor for SS2 says after the April 29 flight “we realized we’d done something quite special. The 16 seconds burn took SS2 to over Mach 1.2. We were wondering whether we wanted to break the sound barrier or not but the flight was going so smooth we decided to go for it. The pilots heard noises after the engine stopped, but they relaxed when they realized it was the (breaking of the) sound barrier.”
No exact timing of the next flight but it could be soon, and possibly during the Paris air show.