On the heels of SpaceX’s successful mission to the International Space Station, the FAA has given the green light for another commercial venture to move one step further toward space flight by granting Scaled Composites an experimental permit for rocket-powered test flights of SpaceShipTwo.
With the permit in hand, Scaled says it anticipates the commencement of rocket-powered, supersonic flights near the end of the year.
Since its unveiling in December 2009, SpaceShipTwo has completed 16 free flights, a handful of which tested the craft’s distinctive “feathering” system, meant to provide stability during re-entry into the atmosphere. Other tests included firings of the SpaceShipTwo rocket motor, intended to carry the craft to suborbital altitudes of up to 62 miles.
Almost all of those flights were completed while attached to the mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, which currently has 80 test flights under its belt to date.
In preparation for the rocket-powered test phase, SpaceShipTwo will resume flight after a temporary hiatus for routine maintenance.
The 60-foot-long carbon-composite SpaceShipTwo has room for two pilots and six passengers, and is, according to Virgin Galactic, the first of what will eventually turn into a five spacecraft fleet. Hundreds of paying passengers have already signed up for seats on the spacecraft.