SpaceShipTwo on Wednesday undertook its 23rd glide flight in the pre-powered portion of its incremental test flight program. This was a significant flight as it was the first with rocket motor components installed, including tanks. It was also the first flight with thermal protection applied to the spaceship’s leading edges. It followed an equally successful test flight last Friday which saw SpaceShipTwo fly in this configuration, but remain mated to its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
All objectives of both flights were successfully met, according to Virgin Galactic.
SpaceShipTwo is expected to undertake a minimum of two more glide flights in order to complete all remaining preparation for its first powered flight.
The company has accepted deposits for suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo from more than 500 future astronauts, a number greater than the total count of people who have been to space throughout human history. Along with the suborbital space tourism flights, Virgin Galactic is also developing an orbital satellite launcher, called "LauncherOne." The company hopes to begin placing satellites in orbit for customers by sometime in 2016.
SpaceShipTwo will be powered powered by a hybrid rocket motor. This type of system is not a new idea but offers important safety and environmental advantages over liquid or solid systems that are more commonly used on manned space vehicles. In particular, it means that the pilots will be able to shut down the SpaceShipTwo rocket motor at any time during its operation and glide safely back to the runway.