If you got Issue 12 of Virgin Galactic’s email newsletter earlier this week, you might have seen this tidbit subtly included in the text: “Excitement was running high for the high speed taxi runs in December and a succession of rocket motor fires”. (The online version of the newsletter has a slightly different wording: “but nothing could compare to the anticipation of the Rocket Motor Fires which brought the project one step closer to Richard Branson’s and Burt Rutan’s dream of making space more accessible to everyone.”) Still, it appears to indicate that the SpaceShipTwo team finally started test-firing rocket motors.
Flight International confirms that milestone with Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn. The “Rocket Motor Two” (RM2) program, in Whitehorn’s words, is working “to mirror rapid progress on the [WK2] flying programme and SS2 final construction, but we are saying no more than that,” including no information on the duration of the tests, the propellants used, or even where the tests took place. “We don’t give out details like this for potential competitors beyond what is said on the newsletter website,” he explained. Other companies in the field, by comparison, tend to see the first hot-firings of rocket engines as a newsworthy milestone, but, of course, the Scaled team tends to be a bit more secretive than others.