Branson Muses About SpaceShipTwo Flight in April, Point-to-Point Travel

Screenshot, Business Insider Nordic

Ah, yeah…about that….Maybe if Virgin Galactic was already in powered flights. As it is, they still have at least one more glide flight to conduct. And they haven’t conducted one of those in two months.

It’s possible they only get one powered flight test off the ground by the end of the year. Would that leave them prepared to begin commercial flights by April? Probably not. There are a lot of variables involved — number of test flights, pace of testing, problems they discover — but six months would be pushing it.

Well, whatever. It’s not like we haven’t been down this road before. For like 13 years now. Virgin Galactic might consider re-imposing the ban on Branson predicting flight schedules that existed until recently.

If you read the story, Branson also talks about point-to-point travel.

“To get to space we’re going to be flying a craft that’s going 3000 miles per hour [4827 km/h] We are going to be the only people in the world, in a few months, to be flying a craft that’s going 3000 [mph]. Taking that craft and looking at point to point travel is something we are going to be in the best position in the world to do.”

A quick Google search finds estimates of SpaceShipTwo’s top speed as varying from 2,485, 2,500 and 2,600 mph. So, unless that has changed with the engine tests they’ve been doing, the spacecraft’s maximum speed accepting the highest number is a shade under Mach 3.4. (A speed of 3,000 mph puts you at Mach 3.9.)

For rapid suborbital point to point suborbital travel, you probably need hypersonic speeds and vastly improved thermal protection. Hypersonic speed is defined as Mach 5 (3,836 mph) and above. At those speeds, all sorts of strange things start happening to materials, control surfaces and other systems you need to keep from having a really bad day.

Have there been advances in these areas? Yes. Can SpaceShipTwo — or some successor craft based on it — be built to fly hypersonic? Branson thinks so. Most engineers I’ve asked about this seriously doubt it.

Hypersonic point-to-point travel is a hard nut to crack. The world’s major military establishments are working on it so they can bomb each other quickly should the need arise. Even if you can develop a system for passenger service, there’s the whole issue of whether you can make it profitable. We’ve been down this road before with the Concorde.

I never say never. Anything is possible. Maybe they do have a viable plan. But, I would need to see a lot more than Branson’s hopeful musings to be convinced that SpaceShipTwo is leading in that direction.

  • Paul451

    “6 months from going to space”

    “Space”.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Maybe he should just buy a ride on New Shepard 🙂

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    He should buy some certified pre-owned boosters and capsules.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    To really make point to point rocket travel affordable, there will need to be enough paying passengers on regular routes. Rockets are far more complex to prep for flight than a commercial aircraft which mostly needs a fresh load of fuel, servicing the lavatories and loading up on beverages.

    The Amtrak Acela train service on the East Coast packs ’em in even being slower than an airplane. The advantage is the train leaves and arrives at downtown locations, doesn’t involve body cavity searches and baggage fees. Not having to travel to and from an airport outside of city limits shaves a bunch of total time from a trip. Rocket service will have to be located even further out from population centers which means that routes will have to be longer to make a dent in total trip times over other forms of travel.

  • Search

    This is how NM got sold on their Space Port. Apparently no one asks the hard technical, business, and safety questions and sometimes the guy selling has an arranged “in” with the buyer. Maybe it is all just so gee whiz that everyone wants believe it and hey it beats the humdrum new stories when you can say “space”.

    The problem is that when the hucksters inevitably fail to produce on their claims while the tax/investor dollars vanish, they make all the legitimate space aspirants look bad and make it that much harder for them to find investors.

  • Jimmy S. Overly

    What do VG employees do during these long periods between tests?

  • Douglas Messier

    Drink at the Mariah bar & harass local blogger, near as I can tell. At least after their shifts end. As to what they do while they’re at work….

    There are vehicles to prepare for tests, engine firing to perform, and they are building two other spaceships. They also have a partnership with Boom for the supersonic passenger plane. So there’s all that….

  • ThomasLMatula

    So there are going to be three SpaceShipTwo air frames, the one flying and two additional ones when they work the bugs out?

  • Douglas Messier

    That’s what they say.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, and worst, they make the legitimate space aspirants as looking like they don’t know what they are talking about when they point out the weakness in their arguments. They just want the quick returns, not the long hard work that brings progress.

    For example, I remember when the folks in NM went chasing after VentureStar. The experienced folks at WSMR told them it would never fly, it required too many breakthrough technologies and if it did fly it would be too dangerous to fly from an inland location even though it was a SSTO because it had no abort mode. Once the engines ignited it either made it to orbit or it would make a big mess below. But they just closed their ears and chased after Lockheed-Martin on it.

  • ThomasLMatula

    It will be interesting if they finish them.

    But it would be probably safer to split up the 100 or so tourist flights between 2 or 3 air frames given the stress of the flights. I felt it was pushing it to do it on one air frame. The two hundred flights of the X-15 were divided between three air frames and it was overbuilt like most aircraft of its era because of the lack of good software for the computer modeling of stress on an air frame.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    There is more than one local blogger they harass?

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Sir Richard is getting nervous after he saw SpaceX’s future spaceship bouncing around the globe in their video. Plus Blue Origin (which has a lot more disposable income then Branson) is edging closer to launching people. He’s realizing if they don’t launch people in 2018, then he might as well shut the doors on it.

  • Douglas Messier

    I always assumed so. But, now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe not.

  • Abdul M. Ismail

    This is one of my major complaints. Far too many people who make noise secure funding and when they bomb, they funding bodies get cold feet.

    A few years ago, this guy from the North West of England secured £130K (not a lot in US standards but a hell of a lot in the UK) to develop an environmentally friendly rocket.

    http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/business/business-news/funding-boost-for-rocketman-966954

    I don’t know what came of that project but it seems they were duped and now they seem more reluctant to funding anything space related.

  • Stu

    A spare one for each time the operational one disintegrates.