Virgin Galactic has hired a new test pilot for the SpaceShipTwo commercial spacecraft from the company that designed the suborbital ship.
Mark Stucky, a former military test pilot with more than 9,000hr in 170-plus aircraft, also flew most of the envelope expansion flights for SpaceShipTwo while employed by Scaled Composites. Stucky will join the experimental project’s four other test pilots responsible for operation of SpaceShipTwo and WhiteNightTwo, both experimental aircraft developed by Scaled Composites. WhiteKnightTwo is the jet aircraft that lifts SpaceShipTwo to release altitude, before that aircraft rockets to sub-orbital space.
Stucky is the first pilot Virgin has hired since another SpaceShipTwo prototype disintegrated during a test flight in October, killing one test pilot and severely injuring a second. The company has promised to revive the endeavor following the crash and fly the second spacecraft prototype before the end of 2015.
The high-profile hiring also highlights an expanded role for Virgin Galactic in the flight test programme. Until the crash, the test pilots for the spacecraft and the carrier vehicles were employed by Scaled Composites. The test pilot staff now works for Virgin Galactic.
“I firmly believe the success of this programme will go beyond fulfilling the dreams of our astronaut customers but will lay the foundation for follow-on technologies that will benefit mankind in ways we may not yet fathom,” Stucky says in a prepared statement.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said, Stucky “has demonstrated unwavering support for our programme, and we look forward to his continued contributions as we progress through flight test and into commercial service.”
Whitesides in January said the second version of SpaceShipTwo was 90% structurally complete and two-thirds along in terms of systems. Testing will begin in preparation for flight before the end of the year before planned commercial operations in 2016, he says.