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SpaceShipTwo first glide flight
by IKE 14-Oct-2010 01:10

The first SpaceShipTwo aircraft made its first free flight piloted by Scaled test pilot Pete Siebold, assisted by Mike Alsbury as co-pilot. It is a great milestone for Virgin Galactic and private funded spaceflight. The SS2 called VSS Enterprise (not the most imaginative name for a spacecraft) was released from the WhiteKnightTwo (Eve) mothership at an altitude of 45,000 ft (+50% higher than most airliners). Its first flight was without a rocket engine but nevertheless it was a very important event.---

The main goal is to perform a clean release of the two aircraft and also to validate the basic performance of the SS2 aircraft. The tasks included the verification of the basic systems, prior and after the release, evaluation of flight characteristics (handling, stall, stability and control) and verification of performance by evaluating the lift to drag ratio during glide flight. A landing approach was initially performed at altitude before the final descend and landing.

These test flights are especially important for a company like Scaled Composites that depends heavily in computational simulation and doesn't have the ability of extensive wind tunnel testing. You can see the wool-tuft in the nozzle shroud (first photo) that is used to visualize turbulence. That approach is highly successful until now, and the company and its founder Burt Rutan have a huge portfolio of highly innovative and unconventional projects that perform as expected from their first flight.

The first WK2 aircraft called ‘Eve’ has already completed 40 flights with only minor events (some rudder and undercarriage problems), which are considered acceptable for such an innovative and still under development vehicle. Before its first flight, VSS Enterprise had also completed 4 captive flights under the mothership.

(in the photo above, Burt Rutan, Richard Branson and the flight crew)

The WK2/SS2 system is largely based on the Ansari X-Prize winner WK1/SS1 (tier 1) system that 6 years ago flew 3 consecutive times over the Kármán line of 100km altitude that is officially considered the edge of space. The concept commonality eliminates the risk and Virgin Galactic will use a larger version of an already proven system.

SpaceShipTwo like its mothership is larger than their ancestors, the spacecraft has interior room similar to a business jet and it will accommodate 6 passengers and 2 pilots. It will reach a maximum 3.5 mach in high-altitude and it also like SS1 has a care-free feathering wing that makes it inherently stable during re-entry.

The glide flight is the first major step for SS2, it will take around two more years of testing and validation until the first commercial flights.

(photos and video : Virgin Galactic)

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