Space

First in-flight firing of Virgin Galactic spaceplane engine

First in-flight firing of Virg...
The spacecraft's hybrid rocket engine propelled Unity to an altitude of 84,271 ft (25,686 m) as it went transsonic and then supersonic
The spacecraft's hybrid rocket engine propelled Unity to an altitude of 84,271 ft (25,686 m) as it went transsonic and then supersonic
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Virgin Galactic's tourist-carrying spaceplane's chemical rocket engine was fired for the first time today in the skies over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California
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Virgin Galactic's tourist-carrying spaceplane's chemical rocket engine was fired for the first time today in the skies over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California
The spacecraft's hybrid rocket engine propelled Unity to an altitude of 84,271 ft (25,686 m) as it went transsonic and then supersonic
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The spacecraft's hybrid rocket engine propelled Unity to an altitude of 84,271 ft (25,686 m) as it went transsonic and then supersonic
Virgin Galactic's says today's flight showed marked improvements in rocket burn duration, speed and altitude achieved
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Virgin Galactic's says today's flight showed marked improvements in rocket burn duration, speed and altitude achieved
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Virgin Galactic's spaceflight program plan
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Virgin Galactic's spaceflight program plan

Virgin Galactic's tourist-carrying spaceplane has taken a step closer to entering service after its chemical rocket engine was fired for the first time in the skies over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. With test pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Dave Mackay at the controls, the 60-ft-long (18 m) SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity pegged the speedometer at Mach 1.87 (1,424 mph, 2,290 km/h) within 30 seconds of igniting its engine.

Built by Virgin Galactic subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, VSS Unity's first rocket-powered, supersonic flight began today at 8:02 am PDT as the spaceplane was carried aloft from the company's Mojave base by the mothership WhiteKnightTwo, also known as VMS Eve, piloted by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile. Unity was dropped from Eve at an altitude of 46,500 ft (14,173 m).

A few seconds later the spacecraft's hybrid rocket engine fired, sending the vehicle on an 80-degree angle upward. The engine, which uses a plug of plastic solid rocket fuel and nitrous oxide as an oxidizer, propelled Unity to an altitude of 84,271 ft (25,686 m) as it went transsonic and then supersonic. As the engine throttled back and shut down, the twin tail booms deployed 60 degrees into a "feathered" configuration that slowed the craft down as it descended to Earth. At 50,000 ft (15,240 m), the booms were retracted and Unity glided to a conventional landing.

Virgin Galactic's tourist-carrying spaceplane's chemical rocket engine was fired for the first time today in the skies over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California
Virgin Galactic's tourist-carrying spaceplane's chemical rocket engine was fired for the first time today in the skies over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California

According to Virgin Galactic, the tail boom now incorporates new safety devices developed in the wake of the loss of VSS Enterprise after its booms deployed prematurely during a test flight in 2014. Today's flight showed marked improvements in rocket burn duration, speed and altitude achieved, and Unity will now go into its final flight test program. Meanwhile, engineers are studying telemetry and recorder data on flight, motor and vehicle performance.

The video below shows the test firing.

Source: Virgin Galactic

VSS Unity First Powered Flight

4 comments
c2cam
Did anyone else have to do a double-take on the main photo to realize what you were looking at?
JimFox
Clue; extreme short- focus lens? Infinite depth of field?
frogola24
ya still don't know,just that there's a camera on the back of the plane.
Bob
Those have to be the tiniest wheels on the landing gear.