Will SpaceShipTwo Fly Under Power This Month?

RocketMotorTwo kicks up some dust during a hot fire on March 30, 2013. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor kicks up a little dust during a hot fire on March 30, 2013. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

The rumor mill in Mojave has it that we will be seeing the first powered test flight of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo by the end of this month. One specific date that has been rumored is April 22, which would have marked the 69th birthday of the late businessman and adventurer Steve Fossett.

In 2005, Fossett set an aviation record by flying the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer around the world solo without stopping or refueling. That aircraft was built in Mojave by Scaled Composites, the developer of SpaceShipTwo, and backed by the Virgin Group, the company building SpaceShipTwo. Flying the space plane under power on his birthday would be a poignant tribute to Fossett, who died in a plane crash in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains two years after making his solo around-the-world flight.

Meeting that deadline would be tight, but possible. SpaceShipTwo completed the second of three planned glide flights with the engine installed on Wednesday. A third flight would be necessary in the coming weeks with a quick turnaround for a powered test.

Virgin Galactic CEO and President George Whitesides has said the powered flight program will involve firing the ship’s engine for increasingly longer periods of time, culminating in a suborbital flight into space above 100 km (62.5 miles).  The company hopes to fly that mission by the end of the year, with commercial flights beginning out Spaceport America in New Mexico in 2014.