Fresh off the completion of its successful captive carry flight just a few days prior, Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShipTwo (SS2), christened VSS Unity, took the next step in its flight certification regime by completing its first solo glide flight on December 3, 2016.
Though Unity has taken to the skies four times previously, all had been captive carry tests, with the vehicle firmly attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, the VMS Eve.
As part of a measured approach before becoming fully operational, this first glide flight was with Unity flying unburdened with fuel and mass simulators.
“Today, Unity is flying light. Mountains of data & analysis preceded this flight; in testing, you check every assumption,” tweeted the company during the test flight.
Piloted by David Mackay and Mark Stucky, Unity was released at 7:40 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (15:40 GMT) and completed an unpowered glide back to the runway in the Mojave Desert, with touchdown occurring approximately 10 minutes after release.
“VSS Unity has landed. Vehicle and crew are back safe and sound after a successful first glide test flight,” announced the company in a follow-up tweet.
Today’s test was the first free-flight of the Virgin Galactic suborbital spacecraft since the accident which claimed the life of one pilot and injured another, with the in-flight breakup of the VSS Enterprise more than two years ago on October 31, 2014.
Notably, the VSS Unity is the first ship built by Virgin Galactic’s in-house team. Enterprise, while largely similar in appearance, was designed and built by Scaled Composites.
The company plans to conduct further glide tests with Unity, with varying mass loads in the spacecraft, as part of the overall flight certification program, leading up to powered flights with the ultimate goal of carrying passengers to the edge of space.
Written by: Curt Godwin
Original source: spaceflightinsider.com