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.

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Another RM2 Test Firing Last Week

RocketMotorTwo test firing file photo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
RocketMotorTwo test firing file photo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summary
(Via Scaled Composites)

Fire:24
Date:24 Jan 13

Objectives:

Twenty-fourth 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:  Once again, Scaled is not providing the length of the burn. Without knowing that, it’s difficult to determine precisely what was tested and why.

Latest SpaceShipTwo Rocket Motor Tests

A rocket nozzle with a round pipe in the middle of it is shown in this image of SpaceShipTwo after it completed an unpowered glide flight on Dec. 19, 2012. (Credit: Bill Deaver)
A rocket nozzle with a round pipe in the middle of it is shown in this image of SpaceShipTwo after it completed an unpowered glide flight on Dec. 19, 2012. (Credit: Bill Deaver)
Fire:23
Date:08 Jan 13

Objectives:
Twenty-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:22
Date:20 Dec 12

Objectives:
Twenty-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 complete.

Editor’s Note: Once again, Scaled is not providing any information about the lengths of the tests, which is a crucial data point. That is true for all six engine tests, including this pair, they have conducted since early November. Three of the four earlier tests were initially listed as having lasted five seconds, although those references were later scrubbed from the test summaries without explanation.

Without knowing the burn lengths, it’s difficult to discern what’s actually happening here. There’s obviously activity, and lots of it at a unusually brisk pace. They’ve done six tests in two months, and 17 tests in the previous 3.5 years. So, that would be a very positive sign.

But, beyond that….Are they testing the so-called “starter engine” that will get SpaceShipTwo into the transonic flight envelope? Or is it a new engine that is different from the previous design?

The only thing for certain is: After more than eight years of development and with SpaceShipTwo approaching its first powered tests, the status of the vehicle’s engine is somehow becoming murkier.

New Short-Duration Test Firings of SpaceShipTwo’s Engine

ss2_landing_june29-wide
RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries

Courtesy of Scaled Composites

UPDATE: For some unexplained reason, Scaled Composites edited out all references on its log page to the length of the test firings (5 seconds) on three of the four listings below. I have heard that the other test, which took place on Dec. 6 in Mojave, was relatively short as well, an estimated 10 seconds.

Fire:21
Date:14 Dec 12

Objectives:
Twenty-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. Performed targeted 5 second hot fire as planned. Duration of burn chosen to allow examination of internal geometry.


Fire:20
Date:06 Dec 12

Objectives:
Perform third full scale rocket motor hot-fire at Scaled’s test facility:
– Test stand evaluation
– Data Acquisition system evaluation
– Rocket Motor Controller performance
– Pressurization System Controller performance
– Rocket system performance
– Valve / Injector / Igniter evaluation
– Fuel formulation evaluation
– CTN structural evaluation

Results:
Third full scale firing of a rocket motor at Scaled’s test site under full control of the spaceship’s Rocket Motor Controller (RMC). All objectives achieved.


Fire:19
Date:27 Nov 12

Objectives:
Nineteenth 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. Performed targeted 5 second hot fire as planned. Duration of burn chosen to allow examination of internal geometry.


Fire:18
Date:02 Nov 12

Objectives:
Eighteenth 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. Performed targeted 5 second hot fire as planned. Duration of burn chosen to allow examination of internal geometry.

Latest RocketMotorTwo Test Firing

RocketMotorTwo test firing file photo. (Credit: Scaled Composites)

RocketMotorTwo Hot Fire Test Summary

Fire:17
Date:20 Sep 12

Objectives:
Seventeenth 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. Performed targeted 45 second hot fire as planned. Duration of burn chosen to allow examination of internal geometry.

Latest RocketMotorTwo Hot Fire Results

RocketMotorTwo undergoes a test firing in 2009. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries
Via Scaled Composites

Fire:16
Date:10 Sep 12

Objectives:
Perform second full scale rocket motor hot-fire at Scaled’s test facility
Test stand evaluation
Data Acquisition system evaluation
Rocket Motor Controller performance
Pressurization System Controller performance
Rocket system performance
Valve / Injector / Igniter evaluation
Fuel formulation evaluation
CTN structural evaluation

Results:
Second full scale firing of a rocket motor at Scaled’s test site under full control of the spaceship’s Rocket Motor Controller (RMC). All objectives achieved.

Latest RocketMotorTwo Test Results

RocketMotorTwo undergoes a hot firing in 2009. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

RocketMotorTwo Hot Firing

Fire: 15
Date: 9 Aug 12

Objectives:
Fifteenth 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. Performed targeted 45 second hot fire as planned. Duration of burn chosen to allow examination of internal geometry.

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…

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Fourteenth RocketMotorTwo Test Firing

RocketMotorTwo test firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Fire: 14
Date: 12 Jul 12

Objectives:
Fourteenth 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. Performed targeted 55 second hot fire as planned. Duration of burn chosen to allow examination of internal geometry.

RocketMotorTwo Test Summary

RocketMotorTwo test firing still taken from video. (File Photo -- Credit: Virgin Galactic)


RocketMotorTwo Test Summary

(Via Scaled Composites)

Fire: 13
Date: 26 Jun 12

Objectives:

Thirteenth 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. Performed targeted 55 second hot fire as planned. Duration of burn chosen to allow examination of internal geometry.

SpaceShipTwo Completes Glide Test, RocketMotorTwo Fired Twice in One Week

SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing during a test flight on June 26. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/Chris Van Pelt)

MOJAVE, Calif. (VG PR) – Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, today announced that its passenger-carrying suborbital space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), successfully completed its first glide flight test on June 26 since a recent integration period for rocket motor systems and maintenance. Also, on June 26, the spaceship’s engine, RocketMotorTwo (RM2), underwent another successful full duration test fire, marking the first time the company and its partners have undertaken test flight and test firing on the same day. Both milestones prime Virgin Galactic to reach powered flight by the end of the year.

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Scale Composites’ Mojave Hot Fire Likely Didn’t Involve RocketMotorTwo

RocketMotorTwo test firing. (Courtesy Beverly S. Rother)

CORRECTION:  Virgin Galactic says this test did involve RocketMotorTwo. I regret the error.

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

The engine hot fire done at Scaled Composites test site at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Wednesday does not appear to have involved the RocketMotorTwo that will be used on the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle, a careful reading of the test summary reveals.

The summary for Hot Fire No. 12 on the Scaled Composites “RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries” page says it was the “first full scale firing of a rocket motor at Scaled’s test site under full control of the spaceship’s Rocket Motor Controller (RMC).” [Emphasis mine].

Each of the previous 11 test entries on the page includes the phrase “full scale flight design RM2 hot-fire.” That phrase is absent from the summary for the brief test on Wednesday, which is reproduced below.

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RocketMotorTwo Test Firings Begin in Mojave

RocketMotorTwo test firing file photo, still shot taken from video.

Tests on RocketMotorTwo have begun in Mojave, which is a step toward integrating the engine into the SpaceShipTwo fuselage. The one interesting element is that unlike other test summaries, this one does not mention the length of the burn, which means it was a short duration event with a key emphasis on evaluating the test environment at the Scaled facility. As shown below, they were evaluating the test stand, data acquisition system, and other elements.

Fire: 12
Date: 20 June 12

Objectives:
Perform first full scale rocket motor hot-fire at Scaled’s test facility
Test stand evaluation
Data Acquisition system evaluation
Rocket Motor Controller performance
Pressurization System Controller performance
Rocket system performance
Valve / Injector / Igniter evaluation
Fuel formulation evaluation
CTN structural evaluation

Results:
First full scale firing of a rocket motor at Scaled’s test site under full control of the spaceship’s Rocket Motor Controller (RMC). All objectives achieved. The difference between Scaled’s site and SNC’s site at Lakeside is the focus on using SS2 flight vehicle hardware. These tests provide an end to end test of all the vehicle’s rocket motor systems and additional confidence before committing the vehicle to powered flight test.

New RocketMotorTwo Test Firing Last Week


The latest entry on Scaled Composites’s test summaries page. They’re still examining the internal geometry of the burn.

Fire: 11
Date: 7 June 12

Objectives:
Eleventh 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. Performed targeted 50 second hot fire as planned. Duration of burn chosen to allow examination of internal geometry.

Whitesides: RocketMotorTwo to Finish Testing in Two Months


The Wall Street Journal has an update on RocketMotorTwo:

–Expects to finish developing spacecraft engine in weeks

–Sees first commercial fee-paying customers reaching space by the end of 2013

–Abu Dhabi selected by Virgin to become the second location for its SpacePort

Richard Branson’s space travel company, Virgin Galactic, which is 32% owned by Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments, expects to finish developing its rocket engine in the next two months, the group’s chief executive said, marking a significant step in its ambition to become the first commercial space flight operator.

The rest of this is behind a firewall.