British space tourism company Virgin Galactic is planning for the latest test flight of its SpaceShipTwo manned suborbital craft beginning Oct. 22, the third of four scheduled launches before it begins regular commercial excursions.
The revelation was unveiled in filings by Virgin Galactic with the Federal Communications Commission on Sept. 1 according to CNBC and confirmed by a company spokesman, who noted the Oct. 22 date is the start of a flight window, meaning the actual flight could occur in the days after.
Virgin plans two test flights of SpaceShipTwo's carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, on Oct. 1 and Oct. 7.
SpaceShipTwo is not launched vertically via rocket, rather it is carried underneath the twin-fuselage WhiteKnightTwo to an altitude of about 50,000 feet and then dropped. A rocket motor then ignites, taking the space plane into suborbital space.
The Oct. 22 flight is expected to have two test pilots with the following test mission to have four "mission specialists." If those both go successfully, Virgin founder Richard Branson, 70, is to fly on the first commercial flight in the first quarter of next year.
The latest developments come more than a month after Virgin revealed the planned interior design of the six-seat cabin of its commercial vehicle, the VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo.
Virgin's scheduled test flight could overlap with the Elon Musk private space venture SpaceX's first regular scheduled launch to the International Space Station. NASA announced in mid-August that SpaceX would launch four astronauts in its Dragon space capsule aboard its Falcon 9 rocket no later than Oct. 23.
SpaceX successfully launched and returned Aug. 2 two astronauts from a two-month test mission to the ISS.
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