Antares and SpaceShipTwo: A Wakeup Call for Lots More Test Flights

I remember reading back in 2008 that Virgin Galactic would soon begin flight testing its SpaceShipTwo spaceplane. I recall reading that there would be at least 50 test flights before there would be any thought of the vehicle carrying passengers, other than its two test pilots. I thought, “Hmm, 50 flights… that seems reasonable.” I figured that should be enough to work out any kinks and establish the vehicle’s relative safety before offering up its services to the public.

Over the next six years, Virgin Galactic did indeed conduct more than 50 test flights — 54, to be precise. However, only four of those flights (including the failed one on October 31, 2014) were powered flights in which the SpaceShipTwo flew of its own accord. The other flights involved takeoffs of its White Knight Two carrier aircraft with the SpaceShipTwo attached to it. The White Knight Two would fly to an altitude of about 50,000 feet and then release SpaceShipTwo, after which the spaceplane would glide down and land on a runway.

In other words, in all but four of the test flights, SpaceShipTwo’s rocket engine was not turned on and used for powered flight.

I think this is a crucial point, —> Read More Here


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