Virgin Galactic has just successfully tested its new spaceship, Unity.
Yesterday’s flight was the first powered flight for a Virgin Galactic spaceship since the fatal accident on a test flight in 2014.
VSS Unity took off from their base in the Mojave desert at 8:02am with Mark “Forger” Stucky and Dave Mackay in the cockpit, attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, piloted by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile.
At 46,500ft over the Sierra Nevada Mountains VSS Unity was released and her rocket motor was ignited. She climbed at an 80 degree angle, accelerating to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn, reaching an altitude of 84,271ft before heading back down.
This is the ‘clever’ bit – the Virgin Galatic spaceship ‘trick’.
As she starts downward, the pilots raise the vehicle’s tail booms to a 60 degree angle to the fuselage, into the ‘feathered’ configuration. This unique design feature is key to a reliable and repeatable re-entry capability for a winged vehicle. The new spaceship now has additional safety mechanisms adopted after the 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight accident, which occured when the tail-booms were accidently deployed while the rocket was firing.
On this flight, at around 50,000ft, VSS Unity‘s tail-booms were lowered again and, while jettisoning the remaining oxidizer, Unity turned towards Mojave for the glide home and a smooth runway landing.
It’s a major step for Virgin Galactic’s pioneering ship, on the route to regular flights with paying passengers, but let’s not call them “tourists”.
I can’t believe it was 12 years ago that I first started getting arsey about the term “Space Tourism”! (In my old off-topic blog )
I still think ‘tourism’ is the wrong word (it’s a thrill ride or a sightseeing experience) but by 2010 I did begin to concede that Virgin Galactic could be considered a ‘travel’ story – if they ever landed at a different “space port” from the one they departed.