SpaceShipTwo Conducts Glide Test

Photo Courtesy of Bill Deaver
Photo Courtesy of Bill Deaver

SpaceShipTwo conducted a successful glide test yesterday at the Mojave Air and Space port in Mojave, Calif. Lifted into the air a little after 7 a.m. local time, SpaceShipTwo was carried into the sky, released, and landed around 8:40 a.m. PDT, according to a report on the website Parabolic Arc. This was the second of three planned glide tests that were conducted with the engine installed, a prelude to powered flight tests slated to take place later this year.

The official nomenclature for SpaceShipTwo is the Scaled Composites Model 339 SpaceShipTwo, but it is more commonly referred to as “SS2.” The spacecraft is designed to ferry paying customers to the edge of space and allow them to experience a few moments of weightlessness. SpaceShipTwo is carried into the sky underneath its carrier craft WhiteKnightTwo. Both craft have been undergoing extensive testing since 2010.

Virgin Galactic, the owner of “The SpaceShip Company,” a joint venture between Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic, has stated its intent to build a fleet of these craft. While its main customer would be tourists who are able to pay the $200,000 bill for the ride, organizations wanting to conduct scientific research would also be selected.



  1. Does anyone beleive that SS2 has a real chance of succeeding economicly? It seams the space race is going to leap frog their technology before they realy have a chance to make a run at this. The whole project seems like a SMALL step before the big leap in private space flight

    • Today, our “commercial” space efforts get very nearly all of their funding from the government. Anyone who has lived through the up’s and down’s of gov’t funding would be more likely to worry about the future of the CST-100, Dream Chaser, and Dragon post 2020, when ISS will be in the process of being decommissioned. Virgin Galactic is a real commercial space company, that is its funding from beginning to now has come from the private sector. And its survival or death will be telling of the future for the rest of commercial space. I hope they make it.

      • Why so sure that ISS will be decommissioned in 2020? Many people are interested in extending it beyond 2020.

        • Ferris,
          We’ve heard a number of the international partners – aren’t interested in extending it beyond that time frame. According to the reports we’re getting – these partners want to be involved with crewed deep space exploration – & view the ISS with its near-useless orbit – as something restricting them from doing so (funds). We also have heard ESA won’t be sending up (perhaps one more) ATVs – but are focusing on efforts involved with exploration.
          We’re not 100 percent certain of this (if we were we’d have run an article on it).
          Who are the “many” people you refer to?
          Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

          • Russia has publicly indicated it intends to retain its modules, and reconfigure them. Here is one news story, and I’ve seen others

            The ATV situation in Europe presents special problems. I’ll grant I have no data on Japan.

            Bolden has stated something to the effect of “engineering wise, it can last until 2028”.

            I have not seen any evidence from hearings that there is a desire to get rid of ISS in 2020. I’ll grant that more than a few have stated the 2020 end date, based on the existing plan, but I have not seen evidence of hostility towards a station extension.

            And there is precedent for extending it already, from members in Congress (I’ll grant that KBH is no longer there, and was a huge supporter of station).

            • Ferris,
              Given ISS is the only crewed effort currently having astronauts on orbit & the worthless orbit I mentioned was agreed to to accommodate the Russians – I’m not surprised either of the two you highlight would express support for ISS.
              I’m sorry, neither Jim nor myself have said anyone is “hostile” toward ISS. If there is any one emotion I’d give – it’s probably apathy. ISS cost $100 billion, is parked in an orbit that greatly limits what it can do & took what 13 years to complete? After the time that has elapsed, I think other than Russia, most of the other partners are ready to move on. One person we spoke to within one of the partners said that officials at the top looked at ISS as not living up to what is was advertised & over the past few years they’d wondered if one of the “S”s in ISS – stood for Sominex. Ouch. Another person put it better when he said (again demanding to not be named) that his agency now viewed ISS as an anchor that kept his agency from doing deep space exploration missions. He went on to add something to the effect that we’ve been trapped in LEO for the past four decades – it was time to change that. There wasn’t a lot of anger in what I’ve heard, just the sentiment that ISS, while interesting, was kind of obsolete by the time it was completed.
              Sincerely, Jason

              • Well, we could go to the issue of going to the moon, and if this took 13 years, why assume that going further would happen faster, but thats probably not polite discussions.

                More seriously – why not look into what is happening on station, in terms of people who are using it. There’s been some interesting stuff (and I don’t just mean Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) in terms of station utilization.

                And that presumes that station cannot become self-sufficient. Why not believe that can happen?

                • Ferris,
                  Don’t get honked off with the messenger (me). We can always have a polite discussion.
                  Personally I wanted ISS to be an on-orbit shipyard (where spaceships would be built & would dock to when coming back from missions). I found out later that thanks to the deal with the Russians, that was essentially impossible.
                  What else is going on in terms of station utilization? As to self-sufficient, perhaps you have better numbers, how much would that cost annually if most of the ISS program partners departed? Could it be done?
                  Taking your first point last, I’m not saying that I’m assuming that at all. I just relayed what two people who were with two of the orgs on the ISS program said. I’ve learned the hard way that you neither predict nor pin your hopes on the efforts of others.
                  Sincerely, Jason

                  • I am not “honked off” on the messenger.

                    I am slightly annoyed that you are taking a position, without having actually reported on it (particularly when you are suppose to be a member of the media).

                    You are the reporter, I am merely the activist/political hack. I can tell you that news stories of ISS utilization are out there (I’ve seen em), and examples of it.

                    It might make for an interesting story 😀

                    • Hi Ferris,
                      I’m basing my comments on what has been told to me. You asked a question of Jim, he’s busy & I responded instead. If I’m to understand you correctly, because I’m a member of the media, I shouldn’t tell you what has been told to us unless I write a story on it? Sorry, I just thought two people could have a conversation & thought you’d appreciate hearing what we’ve seen/heard.
                      Sincerely, Jason

              • BTW, one last thing – I remember you saying, in effect, that we spent multiple billions of dollars on Constellation, and that it was a tragedy that all that money was going to be wasted in the FY 2011 budget (or something along those lines).

                Why such antipathy to something that has cost $100 Billion dollars, and at least has hardware in space? I mean, to me, that is something that could be of use right now, particularly if it can become a self-sustaining system.

                I’d consider that as being at least as powerful, maybe more, than Apollo

                • Hi Ferris,
                  You failed to address how ISS could become self-sustaining.

                  Since so many were happy to kill Constellation & waste the time & money spent on it – why should I be any different? If everyone else can do a thing – so can I. I’ve heard some experts say that we shouldn’t waste more time on an over-budget & mismanaged effort like Constellation – then within 10 minutes they say that just because (as an example) JWST is over-budget & mismanaged it shouldn’t be abandoned. Sorry, if they can think that way – I can too. ISS is not self-sustaining, it can only conduct limited science, & as others have put it – has not lived up to the hefty price tag. Just because I’m a member of the media (& BTW can you name any unbiased media these days?) doesn’t mean I can’t express my opinion. What I got from that comment was, “Only members of the media that agree with my opinions can express themselves.” I say this because we both know there are “media” outlets out there that happily take the opposing view.

                  You conceded you didn’t know what Japan’s intent was, that you’ve seen these reports as well & while you’ve seen news stories about ISS utilization – you really couldn’t name any.The thing is, I noted a lot of proponents of commercial space are very supportive of ISS – the reason why is obvious. It provides large sums of funds to firms like SpaceX, SNC & Orbital. I think it’d be more honest if you were to admit, you really don’t care about ISS – you care about the ramifications to the companies you support if it were to go away. Without ISS – why do we need commercial crew & cargo? The answer is, without ISS – we don’t.

                  Also, unless you want to conduct microgravity research (which we & the Russians have done for the past forty years) the orbit is pretty useless. To call ISS more powerful than Apollo – is lobbyist speak – & insulting. Essentially we’ve gone from launching shuttle missions into space, to having a much larger shuttle payload bay in orbit.

                  No, I’m not with the “chunk it in the ocean” bunch but I’m willing to say ISS is limited in what it can do & if deorbiting it means more resources are freed up for real exploration – then that probably isn’t a bad thing.
                  Sincerely, Jason

                  • I haven’t addressed it, because I am not prepared to give my thoughts yet (and some of the thoughts I have about ISS self-sustaining are under NDA). But I know I am not the only one thinking about making ISS self-sustaining.

                    You brought up JWST, ISS, Constellation, et all. First, you absolutely have a point, about intellectual consistency. For the record, I am less than thrilled by the current JWST situation (significantly less than thrilled), but I have limited bandwidth to get outraged and comment and work on issues, so as a rule, I don’t get into the JWST discussions. And I do see ISS and Constellation as fundamentally different, because one had hardware actually flying, and the other didn’t.

                    As for ISS – let me be up front. It is my firm belief (and you can believe I am being honest or not, but this is a true belief of mine), that successfully commercializing ISS utilization (not merely having commercial companies go to ISS, but total utilization) is a base requirement for the success of commercial spaceflight. Not (only) because if they go away, it hurts companies like SpaceX. I believe that ISS has a huge potential to be the catalyst and example proof and lynch pin of how to turn the LEO space environment into a huge commercial marketplace, for any number of things. To prove once and for all that the space environment has resources we can use, for more than just satellites. From zero-g R&D and production, to satellite services, private spaceflight, spacecraft refueling, and so forth. I’ll grant not everything will flow directly through ISS. But a successfully commercialized ISS will be necessary for space to have a Netscape moment. (Also, for the record, even if ISS goes away, there is good reason for commercial cargo and commercial crew, but that is a separate discussion)

                    I’ll grant – I could be wrong. And it would screw me, in many ways. In our earlier discussions, we talked about putting things at risk, not just lives and money, but even dreams. This is me putting my chips on the table, and my dreams at risk.

                    A side bar issue here, and that is that the lack of ISS utilization is in many ways the same symptom that SLS suffers from, in terms of lack of destination/mission. They point to the problem of not actually having/providing a strategic goal that people have bought into, for our space enterprise.

                    You’ve talked about freeing up resources for real exploration. But that actually makes the point – ISS isn’t a purely exploration platform. It is as much a development platform. Which is different.

                    • Hi Ferris,
                      I have no doubt you’re being honest.

                      NASA has gone on record as stating the long-term mission/destination for SLS – is Mars.

                      As I said earlier, before I became more informed, I thought ISS could serve as a shipyard/waystation. But it can’t. Personally I’d like to have a station in an orbit that would open up a golden age of human space exploration. Right now it appears that ISS is a plug in the bottle of space exploration as it taps funds that could be directed to something I feel is more engaging. If it could be privatized – I think that’s go a long way to alleviate at least that part of the problem.

                      I think you & I would agree that what we need is a space station (in a useful orbit) supported by public & private means as well as deep space exploration efforts. The funds aren’t there & probably won’t be for some time – if ever. So, the real issue we’re facing isn’t that we like or dislike one thing or the other – its that we recognize that the very limited funds available makes groups choose sides & pick efforts that we want to win – or lose.
                      Sincerely, Jason

                    • Well, I think its a little more accurate to say that Dan Dumbacher has gone on record on behalf of NASA, and in other cases, other people have gone on record that the mission/destination for SLS is an asteroid (like Administrator Bolden).

                      The point I am getting at, is that SLS has a destination/usage problem (I believe you sort of agreed with this, but feel free to correct me), which IMHO, is the same problem as ISS utilization. And I’d argue this isn’t a new problem, but an old problem (There is always the Daily show bit about “why do we need the shuttle?” “to have something that goes to the space station.” “But why do we need the station?” “To have a place for the shuttle to go”). Its fundamentally about what do you do when you go somewhere, or what do you do once you’ve built infrastrcuture. Anyway….

                      I would modify what you said to be we need multiple space stations, that can serve a variety of public and private needs. I don’t accept that the funds aren’t there, not because I believe NASA’s budget will be increased, but I believe that there is enough justification for continued support of ISS, and through utilization funds will present themselves. I mean, we do have a little time to try out various means for using station, that might result in real, long term sustainable justification

          • And, I disagree that its in a “useless” orbit. There are a number of things you can use station for (and we are using it for). And I have reason to believe that we’ll see some real development come out of station utilization.

            Or are you a fan of Dr. Griffin’s plan to toss it into the ocean as soon as possible?

  2. I do not agree with Virgin Galactic being leap-frogged and I think there is still a great economic model here. Start at $200K while the cheapest orbital folks are still $20M (100 times more). The goal here is access regular folks like myself need this to be closer to buying a cruise. Yes VG will have competition from XCOR and maybe Masten or Amardillo but they will be a better position to drop cost if they get out of the gate first. I could see these prices dropping 10 fold after a few years and 10-20K is doable for thousands upon thousands of space fans.

    • If I were VG, I wouldn’t be terribly worried about XCOR until they come up with a vehicle that can carry more than two people. XCOR is doing some cool stuff, but I just don’t see the tourism appeal for flying by yourself with the pilot.

      That said, VG’s development costs have grown significantly, several times what they expected to spend. It’ll probably take them a few years of running to reach profitability, but Branson is a stubborn guy with plenty of cash and no board of directors to answer to. He’ll be able to run in the red for quite awhile in order to accomplish what he wants.

  3. Interesting thought. If the Russians pull out of ISS and if private enterprise could control IIS, what would it cost in dollars and delta-v to change the high inclination orbit of ISS? Any orbital analysts here?

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