Sunday, January 14, 2018

SpaceShipTwo Conducts Successful Test Flight

Photo of VSS Unity during is seventh glide flight on January 11, 2018. Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic conducted a successful test flight of the SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity vehicle on Thursday, Jan. 11. The high-speed glide test marks the seventh for VSS Unity, which reached a top speed of Mach 0.9 during the flight.

At the helm were pilots Mark Stucky and Michael Masucci, who pushed the test article of the spacecraft to the limits of its atmospheric gliding capabilities. The flight comes several months after the previous flight of Unity in August of 2017. In the intervening time, extensive analysis, testing, and some small modifications were made to the vehicle to prepare it to withstand higher loads. Mach 0.9 is approximately the highest speed the vehicle can reach without firing the rocket motor, according to a release on the Virgin Galactic website.

Unity has not yet conducted a powered test flight. In order to simulate the weight and positioning of the rocket motor, water ballast is added to the vehicle. The water is then jettisoned around 22,000 feet (6,705 meters) to allow the vehicle to land under lighter conditions that better simulate the weight of the vehicle after its load of propellant has been spent.

To prepare the VSS Unity for its first powered flight, Thursday’s test also saw the full application of the craft’s thermal protection system (TPS). Like the black and grey tiles on the bottom and leading edges of the space shuttle, the TPS protects Unity from the heat loads generated during atmospheric reentry.

Virgin Galactic has not set a firm date on when to expect the first powered flight of VSS Unity. The last powered test flight of a SpaceShipTwo vehicle was on Oct. 31, 2014, during which the premature release of the craft’s innovative feathering system resulted in a loss of the vehicle and the death of copilot Michael Alsbury.

Written by: Paul Knightly
Original source: spaceflightinsider.com

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