Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic made an important step in their mission to commercialize space flights. Last Saturday, their brand new SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity made a successful test glide over the Mojave Desert.
The Test Flight
The spaceship flew to the altitude of 50,000 feet attached to the WhiteKnightTwo plane, after which it was dropped and glided towards the ground. It achieved the maximum speed of around Mach 0.6 and landed without any issues. The feedback from the pilots, as well as the initial flight data, suggest that VSS Unity did very well.
It was the first test flight of this sort after the 2014 crash of their first SpaceShipTwo machine, VSS Enterprise. Back then, the spacecraft broke apart soon after igniting its rocket engine. It’s believed that one of the co-pilots initiated the repositioning of the tail wings prematurely, which resulted in an enormous 9Gs of force exerted on the spaceship and a structural failure. Sadly, he died in the crash; the second pilot suffered serious injuries.
Space Flights According to Virgin Galactic
This successful test puts Virgin Galactic back on track. Their goal? Making spaceflight experience available for everybody. They’re not the only ones attempting to commercialize space flights – Space X and Blue Origin have similar ambitions. What is it that makes Virgin Galactic different from the competition? Contrary to rocket-based concepts of Space X and Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic wants planes to take passengers to suborbital altitudes. The WhiteKnightTwo jet carries the smaller spacecraft up to 50,000 feet above the surface of the Earth. Then, SpaceShipTwo (carrying up to 8 people) detaches and starts its hybrid rocket motor to get even higher, crossing the boundaries of space and allowing the passengers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Afterward, the craft reenters the atmosphere, slowing down thanks to its movable wings and lands safely. At least that’s the plan. More tests need to follow before this becomes reality.
We’ll keep an eye on the further progress of Virgin Galactic and keep you posted. For now, you can check the video from the test below.