New Virgin Galactic Video

Video Caption: The creation of a hybrid rocket motor system for SpaceShipTwo represented a significant engineering challenge. We are particularly proud that we designed and now test and manufacture this world class motor in house. Come meet the team behind the burn…the Rocket Guys.

The Long Gap Between SpaceShipTwo Powered Flights 3 & 4 Explained

Nitrous nylon engine test on Jan. 16, 2014. (Credit: Ken Brown)
Nitrous nylon engine test on Jan. 16, 2014. (Credit: Ken Brown)

One of the most interesting aspects of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the SpaceShipTwo accident is the ability to find out what was actually going on behind the scenes during the vehicle’s development and testing. Reality is at times at sharp variance from what was being said publicly at the time.

(more…)

Flashback: Virgin Galactic Announces Switch From Rubber to Nylon Engine

RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Parabolic Arc Flashback: One year ago, Virgin Galactic announced it changing SpaceShipTwo’s propulsion system from a rubber hybrid to a nylon hybrid engine due to demonstrated better performance. The news was announced on a Friday at the start of long holiday weekends in the U.S. and Britain, a perfect time to dump news when neither reporters nor the public are paying much attention. Sierra Nevada, by the way, was blindsided that their rubber engine was being dropped and their lucrative agreement was going away.

Today, the nylon engine decision is being re-evaluated due to performance. The company recently revealed it is testing both hybid engines again, and it might go back to using the rubber one. That means the company still doesn’t know how its going to power its spacecraft despite being nearly 11 years into the SpaceShipTwo program. That explains why it is taking as long as it is.

MOJAVE, Calif., May 23, 2014 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline which is owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS, has selected a polyamide-based fuel grain to power its hybrid rocket motor for the remainder of the test flight program and start of commercial operations. This decision follows numerous ground test firings and is supported by data collected over an extensive development program.

(more…)

Wall Street Journal Story Adds Details to Virgin Galactic’s Troubles With SpaceShipTwo

Richard Branson speaks to the press at the Mojave Air and Space Port about the crash off SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Richard Branson speaks to the press at the Mojave Air and Space Port about the crash off SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The Wall Street Journal has a good piece on all the problems Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic have had with SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo over the years. It pretty confirms everything I’ve been writing for the last few years, adding some interesting details but getting a few of them wrong.

There were a number of interesting elements here:

The article claims that Sierra Nevada Corporation was brought in by Scaled Composites to develop SpaceShipTwo’s engine  in 2009. That’s not accurate.

(more…)

Video of RocketMotorTwo Test for SpaceShipTwo

Video Caption: Footage from Virgin Galactic’s recent Hybrid Rocket Motor Test

Editor’s Note: I saw this test while I was driving into Mojave. Managed to pull off the highway and catch the ending of it. You’ll notice the video fades out prior to shutdown, and there’s a reason for that. The shutdown didn’t seem to go that well. The best I can describe it as is the engine seemed to burp. The flame went down, then shot up again briefly, before shutting down. That was followed by the venting of some white gas.

Virgin Galactic Hails RocketMotorTwo Milestone

RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

MOJAVE, Calif., May 23, 2014 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline which is owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS, has selected a polyamide-based fuel grain to power its hybrid rocket motor for the remainder of the test flight program and start of commercial operations. This decision follows numerous ground test firings and is supported by data collected over an extensive development program.

(more…)

SpaceShipTwo Engine Test in Mojave Today

UPDATE 1: Video of a SpaceShipTwo engine test conducted at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Thursday, Jan. 16. Scaled Composites conducted this test of a nitrous oxide/nylon engine to power Sir Richard Branson’s suborbital space plane, which is scheduled to begin operations later this year.

The nitrous oxide/nylon engine is being tested as an alternative to the nitrous oxide/rubber engine that SpaceShipTwo has used for three powered flights of 16, 20 and 20 seconds apiece.

The video is shot from long distance, so details are not as clear as I would have liked. I also missed the beginning of the burn, so the test was longer than is shown in the video. I’m guessing another 10 seconds, but I could be wrong.

Photos are on the way.

Scaled Composites conducted a test firing of a SpaceShipTwo engine in Mojave about a half hour ago. Pictures, videos and details coming.

Watch this space!

Scaled Conducts 9 RocketMotorTwo Ground Tests in 3 Months

A hybrid motor hot fire conducted at a Mojave test site in January 2013. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
A hybrid motor hot fire conducted at a Mojave test site in January 2013. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Engineers have been busy over the last three months conducting 9 ground tests of SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid engines. At least one of these tests was of an alternative to rubber/nitrous oxide engine design that SpaceShipTwo has been using to conduct powered test flights.

RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries
Via Scaled Composites

Fire:37
Date:07 Nov 13

Objectives:
Thirty-seventh full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire. Continued evaluation of all systems and components:
– Pressurization
– Valve/Injector
– Fuel formulation and geometry
– Nozzle
– Structure
– Performance

Results:
All objectives completed.


(more…)

Scaled Conducts Additional Tests of RM2 Engines

RocketMotorTwo kicks up some dust during a hot fire on March 30, 2013. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
RocketMotorTwo kicks up some dust during a hot fire on March 30, 2013. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Scaled has conducted four hot fires of the RM2 engine over the past month, including the powered flight of the SpaceShipTwo on Sept. 6.

The log entries are of limited value because three of them lack details about the lengths of the hot fires. The powered flight had an engine burn of 20 seconds.

RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries
Via Scaled Composites

Fire: 33
Date: 06 Sep 13

Objectives:
Thirty-third full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire. Continued evaluation of all systems and components:
– Pressurization
– Valve/Injector
– Fuel formulation and geometry
– Nozzle
– Structure
– Performance

Results:
All objectives completed.

Fire: 32
Date: 06 Sep 13

Objectives:
Thirty-second full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire. Continued evaluation of all systems and components:
– Pressurization
– Valve/Injector
– Fuel formulation and geometry
– Nozzle
– Structure
– Performance

Results:
All objectives completed.

Fire: 31
Date: 22 Aug 13

Objectives:
Thirty-first full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire. Continued evaluation of all systems and components:
– Pressurization
– Valve/Injector
– Fuel formulation and geometry
– Nozzle
– Structure
– Performance

Results:
All objectives completed.

Fire: 30
Date: 06 Aug 13

Objectives:
Thirtieth full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire. Continued evaluation of all systems and components:
– Pressurization
– Valve/Injector
– Fuel formulation and geometry
– Nozzle
– Structure
– Performance

Results:
All objectives completed.

Engine Testing Continues in Mojave

Welcome_to_mojave_north_low

Some interesting activity today in Mojave:

  • WhiteKnightTwo was out flying around solo this morning without SpaceShipTwo.
  • Scaled Composites has a RocketMotorTwo engine out on the test stand along with the mobile nitrous oxide tanker. No word yet on whether they tested earlier today or are still setting up for a hot fire later on.

I’ll update this page if hear anything more.

New RocketMotorTwo Hot Fire Over Weekend

RocketMotorTwo test on March 8, 2013. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
RocketMotorTwo test on March 8, 2013. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries
Via Scaled Composites

Fire:27
Date:30 Mar 13

Objectives:
Twenty-seventh full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire. Continued evaluation of all systems and components:
– Pressurization
– Valve/Injector
– Fuel formulation and geometry
– Nozzle
– Structure
– Performance

Results:
All objectives completed.

New RocketMotorTwo Test Fire Log

rocket_motor_two_march82013
RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries
Via Scaled Composites

Fire:26
Date:08 Mar 13

Objectives:

Twenty-sixth full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire. Continued evaluation of all systems and components:
– Pressurization
– Valve/Injector
– Fuel formulation and geometry
– Nozzle
– Structure
– Performance

Results:
All objectives completed.

Editor’s Note: Sources who heard the test say the engine ran for 15 to 30 seconds.

Awesome Picture of Latest RocketMotorTwo Test

rocket_motor_two_march82013

Virgin Galactic Facebook Caption: Another excellent rocket test! This photo from last Friday shows the second in a short series of final qualification tests prior to the first rocket-powered flight of SpaceShipTwo. The photo looks great, and the data looks even better.

Photo by Tom Nault, Scaled Composites

Editor’s Note: Sources told me last week that the test lasted around 15 or 30 seconds. This was the 26th test of the motor.

UPDATE (3/19/2013)

RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries
Via Scaled Composites

Fire:26
Date:08 Mar 13

Objectives:

Twenty-sixth full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire. Continued evaluation of all systems and components:
– Pressurization
– Valve/Injector
– Fuel formulation and geometry
– Nozzle
– Structure
– Performance

Results:
All objectives completed.

RocketMotorTwo Test Firing Details

RocketMotorTwo firing in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
RocketMotorTwo firing in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries
Via Scaled Composites

Fire:25
Date:28 Feb 13

Objectives:

Twenty-fifth full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire. Continued evaluation of all systems and components:

– Pressurization
– Valve/Injector
– Fuel formulation and geometry
– Nozzle
– Structure
– Performance

Results:

All objectives completed.

Whitesides Predicts Commercial Spaceflights in 2014

RocketMotorTwo firing in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
RocketMotorTwo firing in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

At a luncheon with business leaders on Tuesday, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides urged state legislators to complete work on an informed consent law designed to protect the space company from lawsuits.

Whitesides also laid out a schedule for powered flights of SpaceShipTwo that has the vehicle flying into space by the end of the year. The appearance coincided with the release of a picture showing the latest test firing of the rocket’s hybrid motor in Mojave, Calif.

(more…)