SpaceShipTwo Oscillates In 2nd Test Flight
Virgin Galactic tested its SpaceShipTwo, space-tourist-carrying vehicle Thursday over the Mojave Desert, exceeding Mach 1 and achieving an altitude of nearly 70,000 feet while demonstrating less than rock-solid stability. The vehicle was dropped at 46,000 feet and climbed under rocket power for 20 seconds, reaching 69,000 feet and 1.43 Mach (nearly 1,100 mph) with two pilots, Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols, aboard. According to the company the six-passenger vehicle reached its "highest altitude and greatest speed to date." Video posted on YouTube by Virgin Galactic displayed the suborbital vehicle oscillating in roll (verbally noted by a test pilot in the video) during portions of the flight. Verbal exchanges by the test pilots appear to convey physical strain associated with high-G maneuvering.
Roll oscillations were also experienced by SpaceShipOne in flight tests. Founder and chairman of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson said in the video that he expects commercial flights to begin in 2014. According to Branson, the company is gearing up for final service, which includes finalizing details of the vehicle's interior, as well as flight suits and training programs for customers. Seats are offered at $250,000 for flights to 364,000 feet at speeds reaching 2,500 miles per hour. More than 600 people have put down money for tickets, according to the company. Thursday's flight was the second test of SpaceShipTwo, following an April 29 flight that saw it reach 55,000 feet and 1.2 Mach. The vehicle was hauled aloft for each flight by WhiteKnightTwo -- the twin-fuselage aircraft specifically built for that purpose. The company originally planned to begin service in December of this year but now plans to initiate passenger service in 2014.