First SpaceshipTwo powered flight since accident


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Capitalism in space? Virgin Galactic today successfully completed the first powered test flight of VSS Unity, the first such test flight since the flight accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed on pilot in October 2014.

VSS Unity was dropped from its WhiteKnightTwo mothership from about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters) over the mountains about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Pilots David Mackay and Mark “Forger” Stucky fired Unity’s hybrid engine for 30 seconds, boosting the vehicle to a top speed of Mach 1.87 and a maximum altitude of 84,271 feet (25,686 m) before gliding back to the runway at the spaceport, Virgin Galactic representatives said.

During the descent, the crew deployed SpaceShipTwo’s feather system, which reconfigures the ship into a high-drag shuttlecock by moving its twin tail booms. The feather will be used to soften the vehicle’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere during spaceflight.

They say that they hope to begin commercial flights later this year, but I remain exceedingly skeptical.

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3 comments

  • Tom Donohue

    Mr. Branson has some very leading edge engineering at his disposal but seems to be happy if he can corner the “60 mile high amusement ride” market. I read his vision statement on the V.G. site and it strikes me as “perfectly vague” and a bit myopic. Is V.G. going somewhere?

  • pzatchok

    I think there is something hinky going on between VG and Scaled Composites.

    The aircraft designs are just not cost effective or practical.
    Both of their whole field of works just seem to me to be the by product of some other manufacturing process.
    Their rate of manufacturing seems very slow and sort like their just doing this part time.

    Seriously we designed, built, test, flew and set into mass production long range bombers using 1930’s and 1940’s tech for WWII. Without government financing, at least until after the government purchased them.
    80 years later and they can not make one glider in 3 years. And its a copy to boot. they have already proven it flies and have the equipment to build it.

  • Edward

    pzatchok wrote: “Their rate of manufacturing seems very slow and sort like their just doing this part time.

    This is the development model. The production model may be slightly different, depending upon what they learn from this one.

    A difference between the bombers of the 1930s and 1940s is that there was less chance of lawsuit or other consequences of a failure.

    Another difference is that bombers had been being produced for a couple of decades, by then. Here, new ground is being explored physically, legally, and politically. After the tragedy in 2014, there were undoubtedly many changes other than just for the locking mechanism in order to make the spacecraft safer.

    A third difference is that safety expectations are far, far greater than they were, back then. There was a time when people could hang off the San Francisco Cable Cars, but that is now considered too unsafe.

    SpaceX spent an extra month working their way to their test launch of the unmanned Falcon Heavy, and they did not give a very good probability of success. They are undoubtedly still going over the data collected in order to improve the next launch.

    I am not surprised that both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are taking their time to do it the best that they can. Putting the general public on rockets is not as easy as it would have been a century ago, and the first operational flight needs to be far, far safer than Virgin Galactic’s tragic 2014 flight or any of the flights of the WWII bombers.

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