SNC's Hybrid Rocket Engines Power SpaceShipTwo on its First Powered Flight Test

SPARKS, Nev., April 29, 2013 – Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Space Systems is proud to announce that its Hybrid Rocket Motor propelled Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) sub-orbital vehicle on its first ever powered flight. SNC’s hybrid propulsion system is the largest hybrid ever used for space vehicle propulsion.

SNC manufactures two major subsystems on the SpaceShipTwo vehicle including the main oxidizer valve and the hybrid rocket motor, plus nitrous oxide dump system and nitrous oxide pressurization system control valves.

Upon reaching 47,000 feet altitude and approximately 45 minutes into the flight, SS2 was released from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane. After cross-checking data and verifying stable control, the pilots triggered ignition of the rocket motor, causing the main oxidizer valve to open and igniters to fire within the fuel case. At this point, SS2 was propelled forward and upward to a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet. The entire engine burn lasted 16 seconds, as planned. During this time, SS2 went supersonic, achieving Mach 1.2.

“The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout,” said Virgin Galactic president and CEO George Whitesides. “The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.”

SNC’s hybrid rocket systems offer a safe, high performing, and non-toxic alternative to solid and hydrazine liquid propulsion systems. As the rocket motor fuel is industrial rubber, there are no special handling or transportation requirements, thereby greatly reducing the lifecycle cost to our customers.

“I am enormously proud of our team and motor, thrilled to be part of space history, thankful to be in a country where such entrepreneurship is possible and humbled to be part of the dawn of the next era of flight,” said Mark Sirangelo, head of SNC’s Space Systems.

“This first powered flight test marks a historic day on the path to commercial passenger space flight. SNC’s Space Systems is proud to be a part of that success and proves that SNC’s safe, non-toxic hybrid propulsion systems can be scaled to meet the needs of many applications,” said Michael Borck, SNC’s director of programs.

The hybrid rocket motor and the oxidizer valve system are produced in SNC’s high rate manufacturing facility located in Poway, Calif., in conjunction with Scaled Composites of Mojave, Cali. This location is currently producing motors for both SpaceShipTwo and SNC’s own Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle.

For more information about Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo program visit