Virgin Galactic is close to finalizing the initial flight crews for its space tourism and science operations.
» Space | Thursday, September 29, 2011 • Air News Times
Three pilots will make up the first crew who will fly both the SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle and WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) mother ship. “There were 550 applicants, and we downselected to the finalists this summer,” says Virgin Galactic President and CEO George Whitesides.
Speaking at the Society of Experimental Test Pilots symposium in Anaheim, Calif., he adds that the first announcements are expected “this fall.” The three pilots will fly with Virgin Galactic chief pilot David Mackay, who recently made his first sortie in WK2. Minimum requirements for candidates include graduation from a recognized test pilot school and at least one tour of instruction at a school.
Mackay, a former Royal Air Force test pilot and captain with Virgin Atlantic Airways, flew as co-pilot with the Scaled Composites director of flight operations and test pilot, Peter Siebold, on the 72nd flight of WK2 on Aug. 31. That flight marked the first time a non-Scaled Composites test pilot has flown the aircraft.
Initial medical and training screening of the first batch of prospective passengers has cleared “all but two” to fly, Whitesides says. They range in age from “20 to 88” he adds. “The highest ‘G’ portion of training will be the biggest concern, but we think the largest portion of the population will be OK.”
The 2- hr. takeoff-to-landing flight profile includes climbing to 50,000 ft. carried beneath the WK2, release and a Mach 3.5 acceleration to rocket motor burnout at around 328,000 ft.
The vehicle reaches an apogee of 361,000 ft., providing the passengers with around 4 min. of microgravity. It then re-enters the denser atmosphere, experiencing a “short period” of up to 6g, Whitesides says.
“It is a doable step forward,” he says. “We could have done an orbital vehicle, but it would have cost $30 million per seat. So the point is it is a step forward.”