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Aerospace Firms Eye Milestones In 2019

Article posted on 01/07/2019

A number of aerospace programs with Antelope Valley roots are poised for milestones in 2019, from spaceflight and satellite launchers to advancements in electric propulsion.

Although development programs such as these are not always able to stick to predicted timelines, given their experimental nature, officials expect to see progress in the coming year.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Having reached sub­or­bital space on its most rec­ent test flight on Dec. 13, Virgin Gal­ac­tic’s Space­ShipTwo will con­tinue the de­vel­op­mental flight test pro­gram this year, with the potential for beginning com­mercial passenger flights before the year is out.

The spacecraft dubbed “Unity” rocketed to 271,268 feet altitude, or 51.4 miles, in the skies above the Mo­jave Air and Space Port, crossing the 50-mile boun­dary considered the edge of space by some measures, such as for awarding as­tro­naut wings.

Ad­di­tion­al flights to ex­pand the space­craft’s flight envelope are still needed before com­mer­cial service will begin. Run­ning in par­al­lel with the en­vel­ope ex­pan­sion flights will be flight testing of the space­craft’s interior and pas­sen­ger procedures, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said following the Dec. 13 mile­stone.

The last two test flights have included passenger seats installed in Unity, and future test flights will in­clude Virgin Galactic staff flying as passengers to test the passenger experience.

The number of test flights remaining and the timeline to begin com­mer­cial service will depend on analysis of the tremendous amounts of data generated, until officials are con­fid­ent of the spacecraft per­for­mance. However, it is “not a huge number of flights” left, Whitesides said.

The early results from the December spaceflight were solid, he said.

With the capability for a longer rocket burn, “the vehicle will definitely go higher,” he said, but just how high ultimately will be decided by the test program.

Commercial flights will take place from Spaceport Amer­ica in New Mexico, and Virgin Galactic founder Rich­ard Branson confirmed he plans to be on board the first commercial flight.


Another Mojave Air and Space Port-based project, the behemoth aircraft that will be used to launch sat­el­lites into orbit is expected to make its first flight in 2019.

Stratolaunch was formed by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen in 2011 to pro­vide convenient, reliable access to low Earth orbit for payloads such as satellites.

Its centerpiece is the car­rier aircraft, built by Scaled Composites, designed as an airborne launch platform, carrying a rocket launch ve­hicle to altitudes common for commercial airliners. Once at altitude, the launch vehicle is released and rockets its payload into orbit.

The twin-hull airplane is the largest ever built, with a 385-foot wingspan, longer than a football field, and powered by six jet engines taken from a 747 airliner.

The airplane has per­formed high speed taxi tests on the Mojave runway in preparation for its first flight.

In August, the company announced it plans to offer multiple types of rocket launch vehicles, including a reusable space plane capable of carrying cargo and eventually passengers.

Initial launches will use Northrop Grumman’s existing Pegasus XL rocket, which has flown for more than 35 successful launches from a modified L-1011. This rocket, capable of 370 kilogram payloads, is expected to be ready for use in 2020.

Stratolaunch’s own Me­di­um Launch Vehicle (MLV) and Medium Launch Vehicle-Heavy are in­tend­ed for payloads of 3,400 kilo­grams and 6,000 ki­lo­grams, respectively.

The MLV is in de­vel­op­ment with the first flight an­tic­ipated in 2022; the heavy version is in the early development phase.

Lastly, a space plane to allow for in-orbit capa­bil­it­ies and cargo return is in the design study phase, ac­cording to a Stratolaunch news release.

X-57 electric airplane

NASA’s newest X-plane, the electric-powered X-57, is preparing for test flights late this year.

Nicknamed “Maxwell,” the plane is intended to dem­on­strate in flight the abil­ity to use a series of elec­tric motors to more cleanly and efficiently power the aircraft using a smaller, more efficient wing.

Eventually powered by 14 electric motors strung along its wing, the X-57 will be flown from NASA Arm­strong Flight Research Cen­ter at Edwards Air Force Base.

Initial flights, however, will use two larger electric motors and the standard wing for the airplane, an Ital­ian-designed Tecnam P2006T twin-engine light air­craft. Mojave-based Scaled Composites is hand­ling the modifications to the air­plane and integrating the electric propulsion sys­tem.

The first flights are expected to begin at the end of 2019. “We have a lot of challenges ahead that we know of,” X-57 Principle Investigator Sean Clarke said in August.

Virgin Orbit

Virgin Galactic’s small satellite launch company, Virgin Orbit, is preparing for the first test flights of its LauncherOne rocket in the coming year.

While Virgin Orbit is based in Long Beach, the com­pany’s rocket testing is per­formed at the Mojave Air and Space Port and ini­tial launches will take off from there.

Similar in concept to Strat­o­launch, the company plans to send small sat­el­lites into orbit with its Laun­cher­­One rocket, air-launched from beneath the wing of a modified 747 air­liner dubbed “Cosmic Girl.”

The company suc­cess­ful­ly com­pleted the first cap­tive-carry test flight, with the Laun­cherOne strapped be­neath the 747, and future flights will include dropping the rocket without lighting it.

All these flights will work up to the first launch of the rocket to orbit, expected in 2019.

Source: Antelope Valley Press. While this information is deemed reliable, it has not been verified and its accuracy is not guaranteed by the source, ACE Capital Group, its representative, brokers, and/or agents. ACE Capital Group reserves the right to correct any unintended errors or omissions.