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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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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...

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