Waiting on SpaceShipTwo’s next powered flight

SS2 glide flight landing

SpaceShipTwo lands at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Thursday, July 25, after a successful glide flight: the first flight for the vehicle since its initial powered flight nearly three months ago. (credit: Virgin Galactic)

The last few months have been eventful for Virgin Galactic. The suborbital spaceflight company announced last month that it had signed up its 600th customer for its suborbital spaceflights. In May, the company hired two new test pilots, including former NASA astronaut Frederick “CJ” Sturckow. Earlier this month The Spaceship Company, the former Scaled Composites-Virgin joint venture now wholly owned by Virgin, hired former Scaled executive Doug Shane as its general manager. Virgin also appointed Steve Isakowitz, hired by the company in 2011 as its chief technology officer, as president of the company; George Whitesides remains as CEO.

One thing Virgin hasn’t been doing a lot recently, though, is flying. Until yesterday, SpaceShipTwo’s last flight was its first powered flight in April. SpaceShipTwo did fly again on Thursday, although in an unpowered glide flight. “Another successful glide flight, hitting all of our goals,” the company tweeted, without stating what those goals were.

Why the long gap between flights? The company has been silent on the issue, even as that first powered test flight faded in the rearview mirror. Earlier this month the Albuquerque Journal reported a second powered test flight was “expected this month”, with company officials like Whitesides continuing to state that they were still on track to fly SpaceShipTwo into space by the end of the year. It’s possible Thursday’s flight tested changes to the vehicle made after that powered flight to clear the way for the next powered flight. When that might be, though, is anyone’s guess.

SpaceShipTwo may, in fact, be following a similar flight schedule to SpaceShipOne. After SpaceShipOne’s first powered flight in December 2003, it did not fly again until March of 2004, on a glide flight; the next powered flight was not until April 4, 2004, three and a half months after the first. While SS1 and SS2 are different in many respects, SS2 may be using a similar test flight approach as its predecessor.

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