The VSS Unity spacecraft, created by Virgin Galactic, has successfully completed its seventh flight. The team tested months of ground analysis and modifications by pushing the aircraft’s atmospheric capabilities at top-end glide speeds.
Piloted by Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky and Michael ‘Sooch’ Masucci, the glider was released from mothership VMS Eve. Immediately after, VSS Unity went into a descent reaching Mach 0.9, “which is around the maximum airspeed we can achieve without igniting the rocket motor,” according to Virgin Galactic.
VSS Unity acts as the replacement prototype for the first SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane, the VSS Enterprise, which was destroyed in a crash in 2014. According to Virgin Galactic, “SpaceShipTwo is a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to repeatedly carry as many as eight people (including two pilots) into space.”
Currently, each flight is prepping for rocket-powered trials. During these dry runs, the team tries to replicate rocket-powered flight conditions, such as adding water ballast to mimic the rocket motor’s weight and positioning.
VSS Unity also flew with its thermal protection system (TPS) fully applied, which is another feature prepping for its subsequent test flights. “This ensures that heat loads generated by air friction during rocket-powered boost and supersonic re-entry cause no damage to the vehicle,” according to Virgin Galactic.
Founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic hopes to deliver suborbital spaceflights to space travelers and develop commercial spacecraft.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense