Virgin Galactic’s suborbital, air-launched spaceplane, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), aka VSS Enterprise, is back in the air after a break of nearly nine months following a recent integration period for rocket motor systems and maintenance. The June 26 flight coincided with another successful full duration test fire of the spaceship’s engine RocketMotorTwo (RM2) on the same day. The tests mark an intensification of activity that sees Virgin Galactic aiming for powered flights by the end of the year.

SS2’s 11 minute 22 second glide flight test, the seventeenth for the spacecraft, saw it air-released from WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) at an altitude of 51,000 feet with Scaled Composites pilots Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury at the controls. Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot David Mackay and Scaled test pilot Mark Stuckey were carried in WK2, while Virgin Galactic pilot and Mike Melvill, who piloted the first private flight to space, flew in the chase plane.

Meanwhile, at Scaled Composites’ test site in Majave, California, a 55-second rocket motor firing test marked the thirteenth full-scale flight design RM2 hot fire. This was followed on June 20 by the first full-scale RM2 test firing at the test site under full direction of the spaceship’s Rocket Motor Controller, providing an end-to-end test of the rocket motor system.

“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,” said George Whitesides, CEO and president of Virgin Galactic. “In that timeframe, we’ve had seven successful test flights and three full-scale rocket motor tests. We are on track for powered flight by the end of 2012.”

We can expect more news on Virgin Galactic’s progress at the Farnborough Air Show 2012, which kicks off on July 9, where company founder Sir Richard Branson will deliver a special briefing along with other executives from Virgin Galactic and its sister manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company.

Source: Virgin Galactic