Virgin Galactic announced the successful completion of its first SpaceShipTwo test flight from Spaceport America. This glide flight marks the inaugural solo flight of VSS (Virgin Space Ship) Unity in New Mexico and as such is an important flight test milestone in preparation for commercial service.
On SpaceShipTwo’s flight deck were Dave Mackay and CJ Sturckow who executed some of the key elements of a spaceflight profile. These included take-off and landing along with high-altitude release from VMS (Virgin Mother Ship) Eve, which was piloted by Michael Masucci and Kelly Latimer.
The flight took off from the Spaceport America runway, with VSS Unity attached to the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve. The vehicles climbed to an altitude of 50,000ft before Unity was released, at which point VSS Unity flew freely for the first time. The spaceship achieved a glide speed of Mach 0.70 and completed multiple test-points, before touching back down smoothly for a landing on Spaceport America’s runway.
This glide flight provided the first opportunity to test all the components required to fly the carrier aircraft and spaceship in glide configuration.
Dave and CJ performed a series of maneuvers with VSS Unity designed to gather data about performance and handling qualities in order to enhance the aerodynamic modeling and verify against similar maneuvers that were performed earlier in Unity’s test flight program. The flight test also provided an opportunity for the pilots and spaceflight operations team to continue familiarisation with their new airspace around the Gateway to Space in New Mexico and a chance to capture valuable in-flight data and conduct further pilot training.
Preparation for the next flight will now begin, starting with an in depth analysis of the first flight’s data.
“I’d like to congratulate our team for reaching this flight milestone, especially during these challenging times. I am grateful for the commitment displayed by everyone involved, not only in helping to support relief efforts in both New Mexico and California, but also for the dedication and creativity which will allow us to continue safely towards our goal of commercial launch.”
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company
“Today’s VSS Unity flight is another exciting milestone for Virgin Galactic’s progress in New Mexico. We are extremely happy and proud of Virgin Galactic, not only for today’s success but also for the exceptional way they have integrated into New Mexico and supported the region and State during this stressful time dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. A big thank you to our foundational partner at Spaceport America!”
Dan Hicks, Executive Director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority
Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic