Space

Virgin Galactic airborne after two year hiatus

Virgin Galactic airborne after...
The flight lasted almost four hours over the Mojave Desert
The flight lasted almost four hours over the Mojave Desert
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This was Virgin Galactic's first flight since a fatal test flight accident
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This was Virgin Galactic's first flight since a fatal test flight accident
SpaceShipTwo remained attached to WhiteKnightTwo during the flight
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SpaceShipTwo remained attached to WhiteKnightTwo during the flight
VSS Unity under tow
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VSS Unity under tow
VSS Unity and VSS Eve on the tarmac
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VSS Unity and VSS Eve on the tarmac
VSS Unity and VSS Eve taking off
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VSS Unity and VSS Eve taking off
The purpose of the flight was to meadure airflow over VSS Unity
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The purpose of the flight was to meadure airflow over VSS Unity
The flight lasted almost four hours over the Mojave Desert
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The flight lasted almost four hours over the Mojave Desert
VSS Unity is designed for passenger flights
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VSS Unity is designed for passenger flights
VSS Unity did not fire its engine during the flight
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VSS Unity did not fire its engine during the flight
Rear view of VSS Unity
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Rear view of VSS Unity
The flight follows on Virgin Galactic's recent flight recertification
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The flight follows on Virgin Galactic's recent flight recertification

Virgin Galactic has returned to flight status with SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity taking to the skies over Mojave, California. Though a full crew was in the cockpit, this was a captive-carry test flight, where the passenger-carrying spacecraft remained firmly attached to the WhiteKnightTwo mothership, VMS Eve. According to Virgin Galactic, the paired planes reached an altitude of over 50,000 feet during the 3 hour and 43 minute test flight.

The company says that the purpose of today's flight was to turn the WhiteKnightTwo into a "flying wind tunnel." With test pilots Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay at the controls of VSS Unity and pilots Mike Masucci and Todd Ericson aboard VMS Eve with flight test engineer Wes Persall, airflow over SpaceShipTwo was measured along with its performance in frigid high-altitude temperatures.

The flight also acted as practice for mission control, which will monitor the craft when it makes its first flights into space on suborbital trajectories. Meanwhile, engineers will be kept busy analyzing flight data and making detailed vehicle inspections to help with future modifications. According to a Virgin Galactic spokesman, the purpose is to not only build a craft capable of traveling into space, but of logging thousands of flight hours.

SpaceShipTwo remained attached to WhiteKnightTwo during the flight
SpaceShipTwo remained attached to WhiteKnightTwo during the flight

Today's flight follows Virgin Galactic's flight recertification after a fatal accident during a test flight in 2014, when VSS Enterprise (SS2-001) broke up in midair 13 seconds after being dropped from the WhiteKnightTwo mothership. This resulted in the death of the co-pilot Michael Alsbury and severe injury to the pilot, Peter Siebold, who was thrown clear as the craft disintegrated. Subsequent investigation by the FAA concluded that the accident was due to an error by Alsbury, who deployed the tail boom 14 seconds too early.

The video below takes us through the latest test flight.

Source: Virgin Galactic

Elevating Unity - Episode 1: Captive Carry

3 comments
Bob Stuart
I'd really like to see a comparison of the fuel needed for a complete launch with this system vs rockets, which also have the rapid launch ability needed for some weapons.
KeithPhillips
This project must be costing millions upon millions of $ I hope it all works out for the hundreds of people involved. Anyone know the price of a ticket yet? Also I wonder if Richard Branson will be on it's maiden voyage.
habakak
I have no idea how they finance this. To date this project must have cost over $100 million, if not 2 or 3 times that much. I don't think even a billionaire wants to part with that kind of money. And I can't see how they will be able to start service (and actually earning some money, albeit still running at a huge loss) within at least 3 to 5 more years. One more mistake and it adds another 3 year delay.