MOJAVE, Calif. — Virgin Galactic says the first suborbital test flights of the rocket-powered SpaceShipTwo (SS2) will take place in 2012.

George Whitesides, president and CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC), says recent full-duration firing tests of the Sierra Nevada RM2 rocket motor are encouraging and point the way to integration with the SS2 early next year. Powered flight tests will begin with short-duration 15-sec. burns before building up to a full-duration suborbital flight before the end of 2012.

Sierra Nevada says the tests, which will be followed soon by several more at an increasing tempo, should dampen recent industry rumors that it was facing issues with meeting Scaled Composites’ and Virgin Galactic’s predicted thrust requirement.

“We’ve got a bit more work to do,” Whitesides says. After more glide tests later this year to confirm aerodynamic and control improvements, he adds “next year we will integrate the motor and aim to conduct powered flights around the fall.”

Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada chairman and executive vice president, says a recent 55-sec. burn at the company’s Poway test facility near San Diego confirmed the hybrid motor is on track for integration. “We were encouraged by the power we got out of that. We’ve got the reaction up to where it needs to be.”

Executives spoke to Aviation Week at a ceremony marking the opening of TSC’s $8 million assembly site here. The first jigs for the start of manufacturing production-standard carrier aircraft and space tourist craft will be set up this week.

The 68,000-sq.-ft. facility is a joint venture of Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, and is set up to manufacture “the world’s first facility dedicated to producing private, commercial manned space vehicles,” says Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. The Final Assembly, Integration and Test Hangar (Faith) site will complete SS2 as well as WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) vehicles.

The jig for the WK2’s one-piece composite spars and wing will be the first to occupy the site, followed by fuselage lay-up jigs for both WK2 and SS2. As well as for final assembly, integration and test of TSC vehicles prior to delivery, Faith will also be used for major maintenance and will serve as the company’s operating headquarters.

Enrico Palermo, vice president of operations for TSC, says Faith has been developed to support parallel production of two WK2s and at least two to three SS2s at the same time. “It is the world’s first purpose-built facility set up to make fixed-wing spacecraft.”