Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo makes first flight in almost two years

As Alan Boyle at GeekWire reported, the #Virgin Galactic #SpaceShipTwo rocket ship flew while attached to WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft for the first time in almost two years. The flight was successful and represents the would be #Space tourism company’s comeback after a catastrophic accident that caused a previous model of SpaceShipTwo to break apart in mid-flight, killing one test pilot and seriously injuring another. The accident is considered the commercial space version of the Challenger disaster,

Virgin Galactic has had a tough time getting its space tourism business off the ground since the 2004 winning of the Ansari X Prize with multiple flights of SpaceShipOne to the edge of space at 100 kilometers. Overly optimistic predictions of commercial spaceflights taking paying customers on suborbital jaunts had turned into a dozen years, including the nearly two-year period when the SpaceShipTwo was redesigned and rebuilt.

But now what was once predicted to be the first tourist rocket ship is back to a testing schedule. After the capture flights, a series of test flights will occur where the SpaceShipTwo is released from WhiteKnightTwo and is glided into a landing. Then the SpaceShipTwo will execute a series of powered test flights, eventually making the trip to 100 kilometers before landing.

Virgin Galactic is not revealing when it thinks that commercial flights will begin. The company has made so many predictions that have not panned out that it would be pointless. The pace of the test flights will depend on the results. The company will only announce the beginning of when they will take customers, who have waited a long time in some cases, on the flight of a lifetime.

In the interim, Virgin Galactic has a competitor for the suborbital tourist market. Blue Origin, owned by Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, is developing a reusable vertical takeoff and landing vehicle called New Shepard, which it has tested extensively in West Texas. The next test of the spacecraft will involve testing the escape system that will separate the passenger capsule at 16,000 feet and bring it to a safe landing. The rocket booster is not expected to survive the test as it was not designed to. The flight test is scheduled to take place in October 2016. Commercial flights may be held sometime in 2018.