Virgin Galactic successfully performed a second test flight of its SpaceShipTwo Unity spacecraft. The test occurred in a town called ‘Truth or Consequences’ in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic is offering suborbital flights in a bid to get ahead of the space tourism curve. In such a flight, passengers will be taken to the edge of space. This latest test flight brings Virgin Galactic one step closer to that reality.
Virgin Galactic completed its very first test flight from Spaceport America in May 2020. The May test saw Virgin Galactic launch from the location that will be used by paying passengers. The Sierra County Spaceport was created specifically for commercial use, and it has provisions for both horizontally and vertically launching spacecraft.
Michael ‘Sooch’ Masucci and Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky piloted SpaceShipTwo Unity on the test flight. The same two test pilots had already previously piloted the vehicle on a glide flight test. In the glide test, the spacecraft was taken into the air by a carrier aircraft and released at 51,000 feet.
Then SpaceShipTwo Unity drifted through the atmosphere, totally un-powered, reaching a top speed of 652 MPH. That speed comes close to breaking the sound barrier, which is 767 MPH. At Mach 0.85, or 85% the Speed of Sound, SpaceShipTwo Unity performed a series of maneuvers so that Virgin Galactic could father performance data before the Unity landed safely back at Spaceport America.
Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company CEO George Whitesides said, ‘I am thrilled with the team’s hard work to complete today’s test flight successfully. It was an important test that, pending data review, means we can now start preparing the vehicles for powered flight. Our focus for this year remains unchanged on ensuring the vehicles and our operations are prepared for long-term, regular commercial spaceflight service.
Virgin Galactic’s next steps are to analyze the data from SpaceShipTwo Unity’s test flight so that it may perform a test of SpaceShipTwo Unity’s engines during a powered flight of the spacecraft.
Last week, Virgin Galactic announced that it is partnering up with NASA to fly space tourists to the ISS (International Space Station). This move shows that Virgin Galactic has an interest in far more than just suborbital flights.
SpaceShipTwo won’t cut it for these trips. Getting to, and docking with the ISS will require the use of an entirely different spacecraft. SpaceShipTwo is not capable of orbital flight, and Virgin Galactic has not yet announced its plans for a new vehicle it will use to carry passengers into orbit. The fact that Virgin Galactic has orbital plans, but no orbital vehicle leaves many to speculate as to whether Virgin Galactic may use another company’s spacecraft for orbital flights, such as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
Featured Image Credit: [wikimedia]