Virgin Galactic completes maiden flight glide test

Less than a month after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration gave Virgin Galactic’s space vehicles the green light for suborbital test flights, SpaceShipTwo completed its first glide flight test; that same day, RocketMotorTwo, the spaceship’s engine, underwent a full duration test fire. Such milestones prepare Virgin Galactic for powered flight by the end of 2012, according to a press release.

“Since receiving an experimental launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration in May for SpaceShipTwo and its carrier vehicle, WhiteKnightTwo, there has been a rapid escalation of test activity,” George Whitesides, CEO and president of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement. During that timeframe, Whitesides said Virgin Galactic has successfully conducted seven test flights and three full-scale rocket motor tests.

Project contractor Scaled Composites performed the June 26 glide flight by air-releasing SpaceShipTwo from WhiteKnightTwo at an altitude of 51,000 feet. The main contractor for RocketMotorTwo, Sierra Nevada Space Systems, successfully conducted the rocket motor test, which took 55 seconds to complete.

According to the press release, these activities come only weeks before Virgin Galactic, along with affiliate The Spaceship Company, gathers key stakeholders at the UK’s Farnborough International Air Show 2012. Industry rumblings suggest that company founder Sir Richard Branson will announce Virgin Galactic Cargo at this time.

Reports also indicate that WhiteKnightTwo could air launch an unmanned rocket containing satellites weighing up to 200 kilograms into low-Earth orbit.

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