VSS Unity First Powered Flight
Today VSS Unity, the first SpaceShipTwo built by The Spaceship Company, took to the skies to successfully complete its first supersonic, rocket-powered flight. This flight milestone was the result of many years of extensive design, manufacturing, ground testing and flight testing activities at The Spaceship Company. Today’s flight starts the final phase of Unity’s flight test program before the vehicle is delivered to our sister company Virgin Galactic for commercial service.
VSS Unity benefits from all the data and lessons gathered from the test program of her Scaled Composites built predecessor, VSS Enterprise. Today’s flight saw an envelope expansion for the program as a whole in terms of rocket burn duration, speed and altitude achieved.
VSS Unity took off this morning into clear Mojave skies at 8:02 am with Virgin Galactic pilots Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay in the cockpit, attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, piloted today by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile.
The mated vehicles climbed to a launch altitude of around 46,500ft over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and while pointing back at Mojave, Eve executed a clean release of Unity. After a few seconds, Unity’s rocket motor was brought to life and the pilots aimed the spaceship upwards into an 80 degree climb, accelerating to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn. The hybrid (nitrous oxide / rubber compound) rocket motor, which was designed, built and tested by The Spaceship Company, powered Unity today through the transonic range and into supersonic flight for the first time.
On rocket shutdown, Unity continued an upwards coast to an apogee of 84,271 feet before readying for the downhill return. At this stage, the pilots raised the vehicle’s tail booms to a 60 degree angle to the fuselage, or into the ‘feathered’ configuration. This unique design feature, which is key to a reliable and repeatable re-entry capability for a winged vehicle, incorporates the additional safety mechanisms adopted after the 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight accident.
At around 50,000ft, the tail-booms were lowered again and, while jettisoning the remaining oxidizer, Unity turned towards Mojave for the glide home and a smooth runway landing.
The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing. It also marks a key moment for the test flight program, entering now the exciting phase of powered flight and the expansion to full duration rocket burns. While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead.
Congratulations to our teams at The Spaceship Company and Virgin Galactic for a job well done today – and in recognition of their pursuit to make the spaceflight dreams of many people around the world take flight and ultimately open space and change the world for good.
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