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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Crashed - Statement from Virgin Galactic

Sad news Today...


Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo crashes, one pilot killed

Statement from Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic's partner Scaled Composites conducted a powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo earlier today. During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle. The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft landed safely.

The Virgin Galactic team is cooperating with our partners at Scaled Composites and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as well as local authorities. We understand that the NTSB is scheduled to arrive in Mojave tomorrow morning (Saturday Nov. 1) to commence their investigation, which is expected to last several days.

Local authorities have confirmed that one of the two Scaled Composites pilots died during the accident. The other pilot parachuted to the ground and is being treated at a local hospital. All of us at Virgin Galactic are deeply saddened by today's events. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those affected by this accident.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, provided the following statement:



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
SpaceShipTwo (central fuselage) carried under its mothership, White Knight Two.
Role Passenger spaceplane
Manufacturer The Spaceship Company
First flight 10 October 2010 (first glide flight)

29 April 2013 (first powered flight)

Primary user Virgin Galactic
Number built 1
Developed from Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne

The Scaled Composites Model 339 SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is a suborbital, air-launched spaceplane designed for space tourism. It is manufactured by The Spaceship Company, a California-based company that is wholly owned by its sister company Virgin Galactic. The Spaceship Company was formerly a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, but Virgin became the company's sole owner in 2012.[1]

Together with its mothership carrier it forms part of the The Spaceship Company Tier 1b program[2] under SpaceShipTwo is carried to its launch altitude by a Scaled Composites White Knight Two, before being released to fly on into the upper atmosphere, powered by a rocket motor. It then glides back to Earth and performs a conventional runway landing.[3] The spaceship was officially unveiled to the public on 7 December 2009 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.[4] On 29 April 2013, after nearly three years of unpowered testing, the first one constructed successfully performed its first powered test flight.[5]

Virgin Galactic plans to operate a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes in a private passenger-carrying service, starting in 2014,[6][7][8][9] and have been taking bookings for some time, with a suborbital flight carrying an initial ticket price of US$200,000.[10] The spaceplane could also be used to carry scientific payloads for NASA and other organizations.[11]

On 31 October 2014 during a test flight, VSS Enterprise, the first SpaceShipTwo craft, experienced an in-flight anomaly followed by an explosion and crash in the Mojave desert.[12][13][14] One pilot was confirmed dead, another is being treated for serious injuries. [15] A second SpaceShipTwo is under construction.

Design overview

A schematic diagram of SpaceShipTwo.

The SpaceShipTwo project is based in part on technology developed for the first-generation SpaceShipOne, which was part of the Scaled Composites Tier One program, funded by Paul Allen. The Spaceship Company licenses this technology from Mojave Aerospace Ventures, a joint venture of Paul Allen and Burt Rutan, the designer of the predecessor technology.

SpaceShipTwo is a low-aspect-ratio passenger spaceplane. Its capacity will be eight people: six passengers and two pilots. The apogee of the new craft will be approximately 110 km (68 mi) in the lower thermosphere, 10 km (6.2 mi) higher than the Kármán line which was SpaceShipOne's target (though the last flight of SpaceShipOne reached a one-time altitude of 112 km (70 mi)). SpaceShipTwo will reach 4,200 km/h (2,600 mph), using a single hybrid rocket motor – the RocketMotorTwo.[16] It launches from its mothership, White Knight Two, at an altitude of 15,000 metres (50,000 ft), and reaches supersonic speed within 8 seconds. After 70 seconds, the rocket motor cuts out and the spacecraft will coast to its peak altitude. SpaceShipTwo's crew cabin is 3.7 m (12 ft) long and 2.3 m (7.5 ft) in diameter.[17] The wing span is 8.2 m (27 ft), the length is 18 m (60 ft) and the tail height is 4.6 m (15 ft) .[18]

SpaceShipTwo uses a feathered reentry system, feasible due to the low speed of reentry – by contrast, the Space Shuttle and other orbital spacecraft re-enter at orbital speeds, closer to 25,000 km/h (16,000 mph) , using heat shields. SpaceShipTwo is furthermore designed to re-enter the atmosphere at any angle.[19] It will decelerate through the atmosphere, switching to a gliding position at an altitude of 24 km (15 mi), and will take 25 minutes to glide back to the spaceport.

SpaceShipTwo and White Knight Two are, respectively, roughly twice the size of the first-generation SpaceShipOne and mothership White Knight, which won the Ansari X Prize in 2004. SpaceShipTwo has 43 and 33 cm (17 and 13 in) -diameter windows for the passengers' viewing pleasure,[18] and all seats will recline back during landing to decrease the discomfort of G-forces.[20] Reportedly, the craft can land safely even if a catastrophic failure occurs during flight.[21] In 2008, Burt Rutan remarked on the safety of the vehicle:

This vehicle is designed to go into the atmosphere in the worst case straight in or upside down and it'll correct. This is designed to be at least as safe as the early airliners in the 1920s...Don't believe anyone that tells you that the safety will be the same as a modern airliner, which has been around for 70 years.[19]

In September 2011, the safety of SpaceShipTwo's feathered reentry system was tested when the crew briefly lost control of the craft during a gliding test flight. Control was reestablished after the spaceplane entered its feathered configuration, and it landed safely after a 7-minute flight.[22]

Fleet and launch site

The launch customer of SpaceShipTwo is Virgin Galactic, who have ordered five vehicles.[23][24] The first two were named VSS (Virgin Space Ship) Enterprise[25] and VSS Voyager. As of August 2013, only VSS Enterprise has been flown;[26] VSS Voyager has yet to begin flight tests. The WhiteKnightTwo carrying SpaceShipTwo craft will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California during testing. Spaceport America – formerly Southwest Regional Spaceport, a US$212 million spaceport in New Mexico partly funded by the state government[27] – will become the permanent launch site when commercial launches begin.[17]


On 28 September 2006, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson unveiled a mock-up of the SpaceShipTwo passenger cabin at the NextFest exposition at the Javits Convention Center in New York.[28] The design of the vehicle was revealed to the press in January 2008, with the statement that the vehicle itself was around 60% complete.[17] On 7 December 2009, the official unveiling and rollout of SpaceShipTwo took place. The event involved the first SpaceShipTwo being christened by then-Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger as the VSS Enterprise.[29]

2007 test explosion

On 26 July 2007, an explosion occurred during an oxidizer flow test at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where early-stage tests were being conducted on SpaceShipTwo's systems. The oxidizer test included filling the oxidizer tank with 4,500 kilograms (10,000 lb) of nitrous oxide, followed by a 15-second cold-flow injector test. Although the tests did not ignite the gas, three employees were killed and three injured, two critically and one seriously, by flying shrapnel.[30]

Rocket engine

The hybrid rocket engine design for SpaceShipTwo has been problematic and caused extensive delays to the flight test program. The original rocket motor design was based on hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) fuel and nitrous oxide oxidizer – sometimes referred to as an N2O/HTPB engine[31][32] – and was developed by Scaled Composites subcontractor Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) from 2009–early 2014. In May 2014, Virgin Galactic announced a change to the hybrid engine to be used in SpaceShipTwo, and took the development effort in-house to Virgin Galactic, terminating the contract with Sierra Nevada and all development on the first-generation rocket engine.[33] Virgin then modified the engine design to include a change of the hybrid rocket fuel from a HTPB to a polyamide fuel formulation.


Main article: RocketMotorTwo

Between 2005 and 2009, Scaled Composites conducted numerous small-scale rocket tests to evaluate SpaceShipTwo's engine design. After settling on the RocketMotorTwo hybrid rocket design to be developed by Sierra Nevada, the company began performing full-scale hot-fire rocket tests in April 2009.[34] By December 2012, 15 full-scale tests had been successfully conducted,[34][35] and additional ground tests continued into March 2013.[36] In June 2012, the FAA issued a rocket testing permit to Scaled Composites, allowing it to begin SS2 test flights powered by RocketMotorTwo;[37] the first such powered flight took place on 29 April 2013.[38] The HTPB RocketMotorTwo design generated 60,000 lbf (270 kN) of thrust.[39]

2014 Change of enginer manufacturer and hybrid engine fuel

In May 2014, Virgin Galactic took over engine development from Sierra Nevada[33] and announced a change to the fuel to be used in the SpaceShipTwo hybrid rocket engine. Rather than the rubber-based HTPB—HTPB engines that had experienced serious engine stability issues on firings longer than approximately 20 seconds—the engine will now use a type of plastic called thermoplastic polyamide as the solid fuel. The plastic fuel was projected to have better performance (by several unspecified measures) and was projected to allow SpaceShipTwo to make flights to a higher altitude.[40][41][42]

As of May 2014, the new Virgin engine had already completed full-duration burns of over 60 seconds in ground tests on an engine test stand.[41] Additional ground tests were performed between May and October 2014.

SpaceShipTwo test flights

Main article: VSS Enterprise
SpaceShipTwo in a captive flight configuration underneath White Knight Two, during the runway dedication of Spaceport America in October 2010. VMS Eve is shown carrying VSS Enterprise.
A view of the firing of SpaceShipTwo's rocket motors during its first powered flight in April 2013.

As of October 2014, SpaceShipTwo has conducted 54 test flights.[43] The spacecraft has used its "feathered" wing configuration during ten of these test flights.[43][44][45]

In September 2012, Virgin Galactic announced that the unpowered subsonic glide flight test program was essentially complete.[46] In October 2012, Scaled Composites installed key components of the rocket motor, and SpaceShipTwo performed its first glide flight with the engine installed in December 2012.[47][48]

The spacecraft's first powered test flight took place on 29 April 2013. Spaceshiptwo reached supersonic speeds in this first powered flight.[49][50] On 5 September 2013, the second powered flight was made by SpaceShipTwo.[51] The first powered test flight of 2014—and third overall—occurred 10 January 2014. The spacecraft reached an altitude of 22,000 metres (71,000 ft) (the highest to date) and a speed of Mach 1.4. The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft released SpaceShipTwo (VSS Enterprise) at an altitude of 14,000 metres (46,000 ft) .[52]


SpaceShipTwo's total development costs were estimated at around $400 million in May 2011, a significant increase over the 2007 estimate of $108 million.[53]

October 2014 crash

On October 31, 2014, SpaceShipTwo suffered an "anomaly" during a powered flight test,[54] resulting in a crash killing one pilot and injuring the other.[55] It was the first flight to use the new type of fuel, based on nylon plastic grains.[56][57]

Commercial operation

The duration of the flights will be approximately 2.5 hours, though only a few minutes of that will be in space. The price will initially be $200,000.[58] More than 65,000 would-be space tourists applied for the first batch of 100 tickets. By December 2007, Virgin Galactic had 200 paid-up customers on its books for the early flights, and 95% were passing the 6-8 g centrifuge tests.[59] By the start of 2011, that number had increased to over 400 paid customers,[60] and to 575 by early 2013.[61] In April 2013, Virgin Galactic announced that the price for a seat would increase 25 percent to $250,000 before the middle of May 2013,[61] and would remain at $250,000 "until the first 1,000 people have traveled, so that it matches up with inflation since [Virgin Galactic] started."[62]

Following 50–100 test flights, the first paying customers are expected to fly aboard the craft in 2014.[6] Refining the projected schedule in late 2009, Virgin Galactic declined to announce a firm timetable for commercial flights, but did reiterate that initial flights would take place from Spaceport America. Operational roll-out will be based on a "safety-driven schedule".[63] In addition to making suborbital passenger launches, Virgin Galactic will market SpaceShipTwo for suborbital space science missions.[63]

NASA sRLV program

By March 2011, Virgin Galactic had submitted SpaceShipTwo as a reusable launch vehicle for carrying research payloads in response to NASA's suborbital reusable launch vehicle (sRLV) solicitation, which is a part of the agency's Flight Opportunities Program. Virgin projects research flights with a peak altitude of 110 km (68 mi) and a duration of approximately 90 minutes. These flights will provide approximately four minutes of microgravity for research payloads. Payload mass and microgravity levels have not yet been specified.[3] The NASA research flights could begin during the test flight certification program for SpaceShipTwo.

Future spacecraft

In August 2005, the president of Virgin Galactic stated that if the suborbital service with SpaceShipTwo is successful, the follow-up SpaceShipThree will be an orbital craft. In 2008, Virgin Galactic changed their plans and decided to make it a high-speed passenger vehicle, offering transport through point-to-point suborbital spaceflight.[64]


While the first WhiteKnightTwo and the first SpaceShipTwo were built by Scaled Composites, The Spaceship Company has responsibility for the manufacture of the second WK2 aircraft and the second SS2 spacecraft for Virgin Galactic, as well as additional production craft as other customers for the vehicles emerge.[65] In October 2010, TSC announced plans to build three WhiteKnightTwo aircraft and five SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes.[66]

Accidents and incidents

  • On July 26th, 2007 -- a RocketMotorTwo test resulted in an explosion during a ground test of the SpaceShipTwo rocket engine, killing 3 and severely injuring 3, all Scaled Composites employees.[30]
  • On Friday, October 31st, 2014 -- VSS Enterprise exploded in mid-air at 10:12am PDT and crashed into the desert below, on a powered test flight, killing one pilot and severely injuring the other, both Scaled Composites test pilots.[67]


Sources: [68][69]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Capacity: 6 passengers
  • Length: 18.3 m (60 ft)
  • Wingspan: 8.3 m (27 ft)
  • Height: 5.5 m (18 ft – rudders down)
  • Loaded weight: 9,740 kg (21,428 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × RocketMotorTwo liquid/solid hybrid rocket engine


See also


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  2. "". 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  3. "sRLV platforms compared". NASA. 7 March 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2011. "SpaceShipTwo: Type: HTHL/Piloted"
  4. Amos, Jonathan (8 December 2009). "Richard Branson unveils Virgin Galactic spaceplane". BBC News. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  5. "Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spaceship ignites engine in flight". BBC. 29 April 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  6. "Space Ship Completes 24th Test Flight in Mojave". 4 April 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  7. "Virgin Galactic to Launch Passengers on Private Spaceship in 2013". 8 June 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  8. "Virgin Galactic space tourism could begin in 2013". BBC. 26 October 2011.
  9. John Schwartz (23 January 2008). "New Tourist Spacecraft Unveiled". New York Times. Retrieved 23 January 2008.
  10. Booking. Virgin Galactic. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  11. "Virgin spaceship aims to be science lab". BBC. 4 December 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  12. Foust, Jeff (2014-10-31). "SpaceShipTwo Destroyed in Fatal Test Flight Accident". Space News. Retrieved 2014-10-31.
  13. "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Crashes During Flight Test". October 31, 2014.
  14. Durden, Rick (31 October 2014). "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Crashes". AVweb. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  15. "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane crashes". October 31, 2014.
  16. Scaled Composites LLC. "Project Test Summaries". Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  17. Rob Coppinger. "Pictures: Virgin Galactic unveils Dyna-Soar style SpaceShipTwo design and twin-fuselage White Knight II configuration". Retrieved 23 January 2008.
  18. "Spaceship Unveil Presspack". Virgin Galactic. Retrieved 10 February 2008.
  19. Dignan, Larry (23 January 2008). "Virgin Galactic unveils SpaceShipTwo; Plans open architecture spaceship". Between the lines. Retrieved 10 February 2008.
  20. Tariq Malik (28 September 2006). "Virgin Galactic Unveils SpaceShipTwo Interior Concept". Space News. Retrieved 6 April 2007.
  21. Peter de Selding. "Virgin Galactic Customers Parting with Their Cash". Space News. Archived from the original on 12 December 2007. Retrieved 6 April 2007.
  22. "Virgin Galactic's private spaceship makes safe landing after tense test flight". 17 October 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  23. "Richard Branson and Burt Rutan Form Spacecraft Building Company". 27 July 2005. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
  24. Malik, Tariq (23 January 2008). "Virgin Galactic Unveils Suborbital Spaceliner Design". Retrieved 25 January 2008.
  25. "Virgin Galactic to Offer Public Space Flights". 27 September 2004. Retrieved 20 December 2007.
  26. "Scale comparison chart of Spaceshipone and Spaceshiptwo". Gizmodo. Retrieved 6 April 2007.
  27. New era draws closer: Spaceport dedicates runway on New Mexico ranch. El Paso Times. 23 October 2010. Retrieved 25 October 2010. "two-thirds of the $212 million required to build the spaceport came from the state of New Mexico...The rest came from construction bonds backed by a tax approved by voters in Doña Ana and Sierra counties."
  28. Sophie Morrison (30 September 2006). "Buckled up for white knuckle ride". BBC News. Retrieved 6 April 2007.
  29. Richard Branson unveils Virgin Galactic spaceplane. BBC News, 7 December 2009.
  30. Abdollah, Tami and Silverstein, Stuart (27 June 2007). "Test Site Explosion Kills Three". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 July 2007.
  31. "Propulsion Systems: multiple-burn, green and low-cost" (PDF). Sierra Nevada. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  32. "Safe Hybrid Rocket". Overview – Safety. Virgin Galactic. 2013. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  33. "SNC Statement in Response to Inquiries Regarding 10-31-14 Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Incident". SNC Press Release. Sierra Nevada Corporation. 2014-10-31. Retrieved 2014-11-01.
  34. RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries. Updated 9 August 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
  35. "Virgin Galactic successfully completes SpaceShipTwo glide flight test and rocket motor firing on same day". 28 June 2012.
  36. Richard Branson (5 March 2013). "This isn't sci-fi". Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  37. "SpaceShipTwo Gets Thumbs Up for Rocket-Powered Flights". Flying Magazine. 1 June 2012.
  38. "SpaceShipTwo Test Summaries". Scaled Composites. 29 April 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  39. "SpaceShipTwo performs first Rocket-Powered Flight". 29 April 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  40. Foust, Jeff (2014-05-24). "Virgin Galactic changes fuels as it prepares for its next round of test flights". NewSpace Journal. Retrieved 2014-05-25.
  41. Boyle, Alan (2014-05-23). "Virgin Galactic Makes a Switch in SpaceShipTwo's Rocket Motor". NBC News. Retrieved 2014-05-24.
  42. "New Fuel to Boost SpaceShip Two". Aviation Week. 2014-05-24. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
  43. Wall, Mike (8 October 2014). "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Aces Glide Test Flight". Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  44. "Feather flight and nitrous vent test success". Virgin Galactic. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  45. "Virgin Galactic Reaches New Heights in Third Supersonic Test Flight". 10 Jan 2014. Retrieved 13 Jan 2014.
  46. Rosenberg, Zach. "Virgin Galactic finishes unpowered flight test". 13 September 2012. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  47. "SpaceShipTwo straps on its engine". NBC. 20 December 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2012.
  48. "SpaceShipTwo Fitted With Rocket Propulsion System". Aviation Week. 22 October 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  49. "SpaceShipTwo Test Summaries". Scaled Composites. 8 August 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  51. "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Succeeds In Second Rocket-Powered Flight". Forbes. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  53. "A Look at Cost Overuns and Schedule Delays in Major Space Programs". 4 May 2011. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
  55. "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane crashes". October 31, 2014.
  56. Marks, Paul. "Virgin Galactic's Spaceshiptwo in fatal crash". New Scientist. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  57. "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Has Crashed, Possible Casualties". Gizmodo. 31 October 2014. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  58. "Rich Chinese buying tickets to space". Zee News. Retrieved 6 April 2007.
  59. "Virgin Galactic's timetable for progress". Spaceflight. Volume 50. British Interplanetary Society. February 2008. p.48.
  60. "Hold tight: SpaceShipTwo makes near-vertical plunge towards Earth on test flight as space tourism dream edges closer". Daily Mail (London). 5 May 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  61. Messier, Doug (29 April 2013). "Reserve Your SpaceShipTwo Seat Now — Big Price Increase Coming Soon". Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  62. "Ticket Price for Private Spaceflights on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Going Up". 30 April 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  63. Will Whitehorn (27 October 2009). International Astronautical Congress 2009: Civilian Access to Space (Video – comments at c. 20:00). Daejeon, Korea: Flightglobal Hyperbola. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  64. "SpaceShipThree poised to follow if SS2 succeeds". Flight International. 23 August 2005. Retrieved 6 April 2007.
  65. Norris, Guy (8 July 2011). "An Inside Look At A New Spaceship Factory". Aviation Week and Space Technology. Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  66. "Spacecraft factory to break ground in Mojave". Los Angeles Times. 8 November 2010. Retrieved 9 November 2010.
  67. Mojave Air and Space Port press conference on 2014 October 31 at 2:00pm PDT -- involving: the Spaceport, Sheriff's Department, County Fire Department, Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic
  68. Overview – Spaceships. Virgin Galactic. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  69. "How Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Passenger Space Plane Works (Infographic)". 10 October 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012.

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