Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo glides towards first powered flight

SpaceShipTwo's first glide in powered flight configuration with the rocket motor nozzle visible

After returning to the air earlier this year following a nearly nine-month long break which saw the integration of rocket motor systems, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo completed its 23rd guide flight this week. The significance of this flight is that it was the spaceplane’s first glide in powered flight configuration.

The glide test flight, which was conducted on December 19th, was SpaceShipTwo’s first glide with rocket motor components, including tanks, installed, and with thermal protection applied to the craft’s leading edges. SpaceShipTwo also flew in the same configuration on a test flight on December 14, but it remained mated to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

Virgin Galactic stated earlier this year that it was aiming for the first powered flights by the end of the year. But with 2012 rapidly drawing to a close and SpaceShipTwo expected to undertake a minimum of two more glide flights, early 2013 seems a like a better bet.

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