Leonard David reports that “SpaceShipTwo is headed for more aggressive testing”: Private SpaceShipTwo Heads for New Territory – SPACE.com.
Glide flights coming up will include tests of the re-entry systems:
> Those tests will include a high-altitude drop of the craft that will allow the pilots to feather and unfeather the SpaceShipTwo’s novel, care-free tail section used during the fall back into Earth’s atmosphere. This configuration allows a “hands-off” re-entry to Earth and greatly reduces aerodynamic and thermal loads on the craft.
And sounds like rocket powered testing would begin fairly soon after these glide flights:
> These tests will be followed by attachment of the spaceplane’s hybrid rocket motor. […]
“There will be very short firings of the motor, and then we’ll extend those burns and we’ll start climbing into space,” Whitehorn told SPACE.com. “I think we can pretty safely say now that we’ll be in space in 2011. It’s taken a little bit longer. But the point is that it has been done safely.”
Interesting that Whitehorn is now confident enough about the program to say they will reach 100 km in 2011.
What’s going on with the propulsion systems has been a mystery to outside observers. While we hear reports like this about near term flight tests with the motors, the RocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test Summaries page indicates only five full scale tests since April 2009. Perhaps SNC/Spacedev, which is leading the motor development, is doing lots of sub-scale tests and/or only releasing info on only a subset of the full scale tests.