A-HA! SpaceShipTwo’s Parallel Engine Program Revealed

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

There have been stories floating around Mojave for some time that there is a liquid-fuel rocket being developed for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in parallel with the troubled hybrid RocketMotorTwo program. And, what do you know? The stories are true, according to Aviation Week:

LauncherOne will be powered by a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket, now in initial development by Virgin Galactic. The same rocket also is intended to ultimately replace the non-reusable RM2 hybrid motor that will power the SS2 to suborbit, Virgin says….

Initial LauncherOne flights are due to start in 2015, with commercial flights getting under way by 2016…

So, it seems that SpaceShipTwo flights with liquid propulsion are about four years away. In the meantime, the RM2 engine will suffice:

The RM2 is in the final stages of development by Sierra Nevada Space Systems and “all major components have now been qualified for powered flight,” according to Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. The RM2 is the major pacing item to the start of rocket-powered flight tests of SS2, which are expected to start by year’s end. Assuming tests go as planned, Virgin hopes to start initial suborbital passenger flights by the end of 2013.

And what happens if tests don’t go well and the hybrid motor isn’t a good interim solution? Well, then Virgin Galactic’s 500 plus millionauts are going to have quite a wait on their hands. And some of them are already pretty restless.

It will be very interesting to see how all this all plays out.