Virgin Galactic’s new spaceship, VSS Unity, successfully completed its first free flight on December 3. The important test flight marked the first time that a vehicle built by Virgin Galactic’s sister organization, The Spaceship Company, has flown fully under its own control.
SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Unity, was piloted by Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay, with pilots Mike Masucci and Todd Ericsson and flight test engineer Dustin Mosher flying WhiteKnightTwo. The pilots, mission controllers and ground crew collected valuable data during the 1 hour 20 minute flight, of which 10 minutes was a free flight for SpaceShipTwo.
Following several recent captive carry flights, the test flight on December 3 was the fifth for VSS Unity (and the 218th for WhiteKnightTwo). This glide flight will be the first of many.
Virgin Galactic says it has not yet reached the rocket powered phase of the test flight program, and that it first needs to gather test flight data to confirm analyses and calculations about how VSS Unity will perform in a wide variety of real-world flight conditions.
As expected, for this first gliding test flight, VSS Unity flew light and slow, achieving a maximum speed of approximately Mach 0.6 while gliding home from an altitude of 50,000ft. An initial look at the data and feedback from the two pilots indicate that the test flight went extremely well, but the company will take the time to properly and thoroughly analyze the vehicle’s performance before clearing the vehicle for the next test.
Virgin Galactic had conducted a fourth captive carry test flight of its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, the VSS Unity, on Wednesday, November 30. VSS Unity’s first test flight took place on September 8.
A video of the flight can be seen here.
December 6, 2016