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Powered flight could be coming soon

It's been a while since we talked about Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two rocket plane, which had its first test flight back in 2010. Last Friday, the spacecraft conducted another successful milestone as it glided during a test flight that had oxidizer flowing through its engine. Some believe that this gliding test with oxidizer flowing to the engine could indicate that the spacecraft's first powered spaceflight could be coming soon.
SpaceShip Two was connected to the bottom of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane and it took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. The carrier aircraft took the spaceship to 50,000 feet where it released the rocket plane for a test flight lasting just under 11 minutes.

So far SpaceShip Two has yet to make a powered flight despite the fact that its hybrid rocket engine has been extensively tested (including multiple test firings on the ground). So far the rocket has never been activated during flight.

All point to April 22 for the first powered test flight for the spacecraft. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson recently posted a rather teasing comment that read, "I look forward to seeing you all in Mojave soon."

"Importantly, and for the first time in the air, oxidizer was flowed through the propulsion system and out through the nozzle at the rear of the vehicle — thus successfully accomplishing the 'Cold-Flow' procedure," Virgin Galactic said in a news release. "As well as providing further qualifying evidence that the rocket system is flight-ready, the test also provided a stunning spectacle due to the oxidizer contrail, and for the first time gave a taste of what SpaceShipTwo will look like as it powers to space."

Virgin Galactic says that over 500 people have registered to take the $200,000 suborbital space tour.

Sources: Virgin Galactic, NBC News

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Count me in
By BRB29 on 4/15/2013 11:40:44 AM , Rating: 2
If they can do a 2 day trip to orbit/space. I will gladly pay 250k for it.

RE: Count me in
By JesterDay on 4/15/13, Rating: -1
RE: Count me in
By BRB29 on 4/15/2013 11:53:20 AM , Rating: 2
Have some faith in technology. There's one company that already started making a resort in orbit.

RE: Count me in
By jaytronic on 4/22/2013 12:44:57 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, that is Robert Bigelow's company--Bigelow Aerospace. They have already put up several early versions of his inflatable space habitat--check it out !!

RE: Count me in
By jaytronic on 4/22/2013 12:51:36 PM , Rating: 2
"Bigelow Aerospace, LLC/BIGELOW AEROSPACE, LLC - The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, a small inflatable room, will dock with the international space station in 2015 to test the concept for future deep-space missions."

RE: Count me in
By DanNeely on 4/15/2013 11:56:25 AM , Rating: 3
When they fly the rocket at full power they will be in space. This was just a glide test which can only start from as high as the carrier plane can get; and since the plane is an air breather it has to stay where the air is still thick enough to provide an oxidizer.

RE: Count me in
By Hakuryu on 4/15/13, Rating: 0
RE: Count me in
By DanNeely on 4/15/2013 1:36:36 PM , Rating: 2
Correct; but you fail at reading comprehension. They haven't tested the rocket engine in the air yet. Like their X Prize winning design spaceship 2's first stage is an conventional(ish) airplane that uses airbreathing jet engines. As a result the highest they could go for the glide test was the 50k feet level when the air started getting thin for airbreathing flight. When they do a full on test this after being dropped by the plane they'll start the rocket and continue into space.

RE: Count me in
By Hakuryu on 4/15/2013 3:28:44 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps, but the carrier plane does not use an oxidizer, hence my 'reading comprehension'.

While oxygen is an oxidizer, air is not pure oxygen, and hence it not an oxidizer in the sense an engineer would use the word. An oxidizer reacts with fuel, jet engines heat air and expel it with the gasses from combustion.

Anyone a rocket scientist, and can chime in on this?

RE: Count me in
By Bubbacub on 4/15/2013 4:10:00 PM , Rating: 4
the shuttle solid rocket boosters use ammonium perchlorate as an oxidiser.

the x37 uses peroxide (and RP1 as fuel)

theoretically one could use fluorine or something equally nasty - i wouldnt want to be downwind of the exhaust fume of that type of rocket!

air (as a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen) is the oxidiser for a jet engine.

essentially any form of combustion needs fuel and an oxidiser.

whilst oxygen is an oxidiser there are many other agents that can work as an oxidiser

essentially anything with a high electronegativity can work as an oxidiser - it just needs to be able to be more electronegative than the agent being reduced to take away electrons and thus oxidise the agent in question (usually a fuel in the context of jet/rocket propulsion).

RE: Count me in
By Moto7451 on 4/15/2013 9:47:17 PM , Rating: 2
They weren't testing the air plane. That's a known variable and performed its standard job (lift the actual spacecraft to 50K feet). The way SpaceShip Two (SS2) makes it to space is by being lifted to 50K feet by a specialized airplane and being released to fly the rest of the way under its own power.

The oxidizer test performed on the was the rocket engine of SS2. They flowed NO2 through the engine without igniting anything. If they ignited the engine, the SS2 would accelerate and pitch up.

RE: Count me in
By delphinus100 on 4/17/2013 7:07:10 PM , Rating: 2
We do call jet engines (as opposed to rockets that bring their own oxidizer) 'airbreathing' engines for a reason...

RE: Count me in
By Dukeajuke on 4/15/2013 12:38:47 PM , Rating: 2
This was a test flight. The live flights will reach an altitude of 333,000 feet which is considered space by almost everyone's standards. Is it worth the money? I would have to say no, but right now there are the only game in town for most of the rich astronaut wannabees.

RE: Count me in
By Hammer1024 on 4/15/2013 1:55:47 PM , Rating: 1
Um, yeah... You do realize that WhiteKnight Two carries SpaceShip Two to 50,000 ft. to LAUNCH it right? Guess, not, "right"...

At 50,000 feet they separate; WhiteKnight Two turns and pulls up and away, SpaceShip Two falls.

At 47,000 ft., or there abouts, SpaceShip Two IGNITES its rocket motor and heads for space. The apogee is between 53 and 56 miles in altitude for SpaceShip Two.

50 miles, by treaty, is the definition of space.

I know it's a stretch for most people in this country to educate themselves, but really? Get a frigging clue.

RE: Count me in
By BRB29 on 4/15/2013 12:42:24 PM , Rating: 2
lol did i just get voted down for my willingness to pay for a flight?

RE: Count me in
By topkill on 4/15/2013 12:57:20 PM , Rating: 2
I guess someone on here thinks it's some kind of commie plot and you're really looking to get a subsidy???


RE: Count me in
By Redwin on 4/15/2013 1:20:37 PM , Rating: 3
No, you were voted down because your comment betrays a misunderstanding of the subject at hand, though I'd like to point out that the guy who responded to you about space being 50 miles, not 50k ft, has an even worse misunderstanding.

The Virgin Galactic spaceplane is a suborbital flight. This means it goes up to the edge of space (About 68 miles IIRC) and then falls back down, gliding to a landing. This gets you about 5 min of weightlessness at the peak of the trajectory, and you can see the curvature of the earth and blackness of space above you.

To go up for "a couple days" you would need to reach orbital velocity. While doing its up-down suborbital flight the Virgin Galactic spaceplane accelerates to a bit above Mach 3. This is quite fast, but nowhere near orbital speed, which is somewhere around mach 25. So... SpaceShip2 could never take you to orbit, and would not be able to survive re-entry even if it could.

The 50k ft drop was just a glide test simulating the end of a real flight, with the oxidizer (but not the fuel) running through the engine.

RE: Count me in
By Amiga500 on 4/15/2013 1:37:35 PM , Rating: 3
Indeed. This sub-orbital space-tourism stuff is as far from pukka space-flight as a Prius is from a Formula 1 car.

Not that it isn't a worthwhile business venture as it is the most efficient way to get money from those with the cash to burn who want to say "I've been to space".

RE: Count me in
By BRB29 on 4/15/2013 2:31:59 PM , Rating: 2
I know bro, but you're reading way too much into a comment. I am not here to elaborate or rewrite an article.

all i said was if they can give me a 2 day trip for 250k then I'm game. I don't want to pay 200k for 5 mins of weightlessness. It may not happen for another 20-30 years but this is progress to a reliable affordable space launch. It will get there soon.

RE: Count me in
By JesterDay on 4/16/2013 2:54:55 AM , Rating: 2
I understand just fine. What I'm saying just as MrBlastman said from the original 2010 article is ..until it actually goes into space and returns's just a concept, nothing more. A way to get funding. Most likely this "spacecraft" will never make it into space. Possibly a few revised versions later in the future..but I don't think this one will safely hit space and return.

RE: Count me in
By delphinus100 on 4/17/2013 7:13:37 PM , Rating: 2
The Virgin Galactic spaceplane is a suborbital flight. This means it goes up to the edge of space (About 68 miles IIRC)

100km, or 62.5 miles, or 328,000 feet. Also known as the 'VonKarman line' At that altitude or greater, the air is so thin that in order to get enough lift to avoid stalling, a plane would have to be moving at orbital velocity, anyway...

However, NASA/USAF did give astronaut wings to test pilots who flew the X-15 (or anything else that can) above 50 miles.

And for nuclear detonation purposes, it's considered to be a 'space burst' (as opposed to 'airburst') above 100,000 feet...

RE: Count me in
By fteoath64 on 4/16/2013 1:40:45 AM , Rating: 2
You are not gonna get strapped into place for 48 hours!. With a few hours of "play" floating in that miniscule space inside the craft. This craft is too small for prolonged stay in space. It is potentially good for 2 persons but it seats 6 persons in total in this configuration.

RE: Count me in
By 91TTZ on 4/17/2013 3:33:42 PM , Rating: 2
No you won't. Who on this forum has $250,000 to throw around on a short zoom climb?

By Amiga500 on 4/15/2013 1:18:27 PM , Rating: 2
Has a couple of nice pieces on the F-1 and F-1B.

One of the more striking tidbits was this - the power output of the Saturn V 1st stage is roughly 60 GigaWatts. I can't begin to tell you how utterly mindblowing that is. Several hours after reading it, I'm still wrapping my head around it!

<For context, that is around 1.5x the entire UK's electric power demand over the last 24 hours.>

RE: ArsTechnica...
By rttrek on 4/15/2013 2:36:19 PM , Rating: 3
the power output of the Saturn V 1st stage is roughly 60 GigaWatts

Which is also almost three times the power required to propel a DeLorean through time!

RE: ArsTechnica...
By titanmiller on 4/15/2013 10:58:56 PM , Rating: 2
Almost 30 times...

RE: ArsTechnica...
By FishTankX on 4/16/2013 5:47:10 PM , Rating: 2
Rocket engines develop crazy power that's for sure. Another interesting one I saw was that. A747 outputs 140mw so the saturn outputs the same as about 330 747s. Another mind boggling one I saw was the tsar bombs hydrogen bomb when it exploded released about 30YW. Which is about 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 watts or one tenth the power output of the sun.

RE: ArsTechnica...
By JKflipflop98 on 4/18/2013 6:29:47 AM , Rating: 2
There's no way any man made device reached a power output of 1/10th of the sun. The Earth would be blown to ashes.

RE: ArsTechnica...
By ShieTar on 4/23/2013 3:03:39 AM , Rating: 2
As a peak power, that's actually quiet possible. But it would only act for a very tiny fraction of a second. It lies in the functional principle of a bomb to generate a lot of power in the very short time before the power destroys the bomb, and the exponential reaction in a nuclear bomb does most of its work in the last nanosecond of its existence.
Of course the overall energy generated of about 240 PJ is nothing compared to the energy output of the sun with about 380 billion PJ per second.
You can also buy laboratory lasers which output close to 1 GW of peak power, but that is focused in femto-second pulses, and the overall energy is still low enough to stop the beam with a piece of aluminum foil.

That logo
By BernardP on 4/15/2013 12:33:48 PM , Rating: 3
The Virgin logo underneath the carrier plane would not be out of place on a box of laundry detergent.

RE: That logo
By runutz on 4/15/2013 9:39:43 PM , Rating: 2
On a wedding dress, however.....

well it would be a short flight at most
By KOOLTIME on 4/19/2013 1:44:17 PM , Rating: 2
i dont see any new tech outside of nuclear, that can sustain the time frames needed to fly in space under "power" as listed here.

Were not talking filling up gas tank and driving few hundred miles.

Space distance just to the moon is approx million milles. There is no fuel system that can drive that far, with a big enough tank to power around the system to visit. Nuvlear though has the long term duration energy to possibly do such.

Look at the neclear powered craft JPL, just recently reached after 16 years flight time to the edge of our soloar system.

There are 2 of them currently just recently hit that edge. Those have nuclear drive power which will last approx 90 years, before we lose contact.

By jaytronic on 4/22/2013 12:07:53 PM , Rating: 2
"Since the moon's orbit is elliptical (oval-shaped), its distance varies from about 221,463 miles (356,334 kilometers) at perigee to 251,968 miles (405,503 kilometers) at apogee."

To the MOON, Alice !!!
By jaytronic on 4/22/2013 12:15:36 PM , Rating: 2
Our next logical step is to go to the moon--hopefully without the use of nuclear (unless we can almost absolutely avoid nuclear leaks, explosions etc) since that would render the Lunar surface uninhabitable (without an expensive clean-up). There is no need for nuclear given the overwhelming availability of solar energy and the potential use of fusion (due to the abundance of He3? ). For solar, all we need to do is use reflective solar sail lunar satellites to redirect the energy to the dark phase of the moon. Eventually, once a grid is established, that won't even be necessary. Process & manufacture using lunar minerals NOW !!! $$TRILLIONS$$ AVAILABLE ON LUNA !!

RE: To the MOON, Alice !!!
By ShieTar on 4/23/2013 3:35:31 AM , Rating: 2
1) A nuclear explosion would not do much to the surface of the moon. Earth has gone through hundreds of nuclear explosions in the 50s and 60s, and while we can still measure the aftermath and while it can be assumed that the tests have caused a couple 1000 cases of cancer, it didn't exactly render earth uninhabitable.

The truth is, just the everyday cosmic radiation hitting the moon is plenty to kill everybody with any long-term settlement plans unless he hides in a thick protective structure. At that point, he would not overly care about a bit of fallout lying around on the moon-floor. Its not like anything grows there which could become contaminated.

2) You know that fusion is also nuclear, right?

3) Going to the moon basically consists of escaping the earths gravity. Once you are out, there is no huge reason to continue acceleration, so there is no reason to use either nuclear or solar power for that trip.

4) The "dark phase" of the moon is called that because it is not seen from earth. It still gets sun-light within the normal 24 hours cycle. You only need a battery.

5) Even if a point on moon would get no sunlight, you would get the power there by a normal cable at a 1 billionth of the cost of trying to throw mirrors into space to redirect sunlight. Especially with low gravity and no weather, building power lines should be rather trivial.

6) We are already capable of recycling basically every metal and mineral we need at a cost that is roughly comparable to initial production costs, i.e. in the same order of magnitude. Sure, digging a hole in the ground in some 3rd world country and not giving the workers health insurance remains cheaper for many materials than recycling. Transporting anything from the moon or some asteroid, on the other hand, will never be cheaper.

Just looks cool
By Ammohunt on 4/18/2013 11:42:07 AM , Rating: 2
Like something off the old Thunderbirds show.

By jaytronic on 4/22/2013 12:19:51 PM , Rating: 2
By the way, it is my understanding that Burt Rutan and others (Branson?) have already considered the use of the White Knight to carry a high atmosphere to orbit rocket? Anyone else heard this?

Launcher One !!!
By jaytronic on 4/22/2013 12:40:03 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry guys (& gals), it has been a while since I've been to the Virgin Galactic website. They are building "Launcher One" to put satellites into orbit right now! Go to VG's website and check it out if you haven't. This is not a spaceplane though that can be reused (the White Knight part is), but it should be lower cost since the high altitude part of the trip is reuseable. Hopefully VG can eventually build big enough space planes so that the entire trip to orbit is TOTALLY reusable (Heinlein is noted for saying that orbit is the most difficult part anyway). Then we will be just one 2 day trip to the moon to begin using Lunar resources to self-perpetuate the growth of space travel !!

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