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Suborbital flight has the advantage of recreating the conditions of flight into orbit at a lower technological and financial cost. In suborbital flight, we cross the space frontier and fly in weightlessness for a few minutes, without leaving the field of gravity completely. How? Suborbital flight follows a parabolic trajectory, like a ballistic missile.

The Spaceship Company, born from the union between the Virgin Group and the Burt Rutan Scaled Composites company recently unveiled Spaceship II  also known as VSS ENTERPRISE . Virgin Galactic commissioned the latter to design and build SpaceShip Two, a commercial version of the X Prize winner SpaceShip One, and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft to transport people in space (110 km above the earth).

SpaceShip Two (SST) rises to the 500 level (15.2 kms), secured to a specially designed take-off plane, the WhiteKnight2. Arrived at this altitude, SS2 separates from this carrier plane and its hybrid rocket engine is fired. SS2 begins a climb that takes him beyond the official limit of the atmosphere to more than 100,000 meters above sea level. The climb lasts 90 seconds and reaches a speed equal to more than three times that of the sound (Mach 3). Shortly after the climax (its maximum altitude) SS2 folds its wings to 90 degrees to prepare its slow re-entry into the atmosphere, under the effect of the gravitational force of the earth. When SS2 meets the resistance of the atmosphere, its wings unfold again, returning to their original position and allowing a landing without engine on the spaceport.

As of June 2012, 80 flight tests have been carried out since the beginning of 2011. Among these tests, 16 made it possible to test the behavior of the shuttle in hovering flight with the principle of opening-closing of the wings in very high atmosphere. A modification plan was undertaken in the fall of 2011 to date to correct the center of gravity, and reinforce the landing gear of WK2.

The FAA has just given the green light to start flights propelled by the rocket engine hybrid (nitrogen peroxide (laughing gas!) + Polybutadiene (latex)). Until the spring of 2012, this engine was tested on the ground so as to check the fluidity of combustion, quite complex when it comes to blending a solid oxidizer, with a liquid fuel at high temperature.

Let us wager that these flight tests will succeed each other for about 18 months for a total of about 150 flights propelled before receiving the precious sesame of the opening to the public, around 2014-2015.

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