Following another successful glide test of their newest SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic have confirmed that it’s close to powered flight. Dubbed the VSS Unity, testing of the vehicle was started late last year and it would appear that process is nearing its most exciting phase. This latest update puts Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic one step closer to becoming the first provider of commercial space travel.
During glide tests, the VSS Unity is carried to cruising altitude by its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and dropped. The vehicle glides to a runway landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Virgin Galactic’s latest glide test on September 7 is the sixth for the VSS Unity and is the first to include all mission-ready components, including its hybrid rocket motor. On what this latest glide test means to the company, spokesperson George Whitesides stated, “Galactic is still trucking away and we are getting close to powered flight,” He continued, “We’re now right at the edge of powered flight.”
The SpaceShipTwo is powered by an advanced hybrid rocket motor. The motor has been the source of much of Virgin Galactic’s delays. However, Whitesides has assured that they are now on track stating, “We’ve been doing a bunch of engine testing. That’s now done, so we’re ready to go into powered flight,” He continued, “Hybrid rocket motors are hard, but our engineering team has done a great job working on that.”
Both Whitesides and Branson himself have erred on the side of caution with regards to when the company would eventually start offering commercial flights. However, Branson has been reported stating that he would be “very disappointed” if the VSS Unity is no operational by the end of 2018.
The VSS Unity began glide tests in December 2016 following the loss of the first SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Enterprise. The company’s first vehicle was lost in a tragic accident in October 2014 during a powered test flight. The accident resulted in the death of the VSS Enterprise’s co-pilot. The plane’s pilot escaped with injuries. Following an intensive investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), it was discovered that the co-pilot had unlocked the SpaceShipTwo’s feathering system prematurely as it accelerated through the sound barrier.
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic
About Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 by Richard Branson within his Virgin Group of companies, a group that includes Virgin Atlantic. The company plans to offer suborbital spaceflights to space tourists and suborbital launches for scientific research. In addition to the Virgin Group, major investors of Virgin Galactic include the Aabar Investments group from Abu Dhabi which purchased 31.8% of the company. Both the SpaceShipTwo and the WhiteKnightTwo are being developed and built by The Spaceship Company (TSC) of which Virgin owns 70%. The other 30% of TSC is owned by the Lee Family from Hong Kong.