Virgin Galactic Spaceship Makes 1st Solo Glide Flight
Several days ago, on December 3rd, 2016, Virgin Galactic performed its first test flight with it’s its second SpaceShipTwo. This event marks the beginning of a new phase of testing, and a step further into space travelling. Also known as VSS Unity, this spacecraft, alongside the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, left the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. VSS Unity launched from the aircraft and then landed in the Mojave ten minutes later.
As mentioned before, this test marked the next phase in the long-delayed suborbital vehicle’s design. VSS Unity’s purpose will ultimately be to take willing passengers at an altitude of 62 miles, or 100 kilometres, above the planet’s surface, in order to offer people a much-needed perspective on the world and, in a sense, their problems. The Virgin Galactic Spaceship will hover at that altitude for several minutes, exposing the passengers to the effects of microgravity. These spaceships will also have the responsibility of sending research payloads to that respective altitude, “hitting two birds with one stone”, as it were.
Due to several climatic events and other unforeseen circumstances, this test flight was delayed for over several months. This flight was the first in a series of glides which test the aerodynamic performance of the vehicle. Once these are cleared and the engineers are satisfied with the results, they will move on to powered flights.
“There’s 10 glide flights’ worth of targets,” said Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses. “We could do those in 8 flights, or might take 15, but we’re not going into the next phase before we clear those.”
Once these tests will be finished, the powered tests will begin. The first SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Enterprise, was performing its fourth powered test flight when it crashed in 2014, killing the copilot and injuring the pilot in the process. The investigation done by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the reason for the crash was a result of a premature unlocking of the spaceship’s feathering mechanism by the copilot, thus raising the tail just as the vehicle was accelerating through Mach 1.The investigators criticised the developers, Scaled Composites, for designing the vehicle that way in the first place.
The stand-down after the accident gave Virgin Galactic time to work on the vehicle’s hybrid rocket motor, whose development had been troubled. “If the spaceship was ready, we could do a powered flight tomorrow,” Moses said in October.
This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.