At this stage of the glide flight programme, each flight is essentially a dry run — and one step closer to commercial service in New Mexico’s Spaceport America.
VSS Unity was released from the mothership VMS Eve and dropped from 50,000ft, reaching speed of Mach 0.9. That is around the maximum airspeed we can achieve before the rocket motor ignites.
Behind every test flight is months of hard work, preparation and analysis on the ground. To replicate the conditions of rocket-powered flights, water ballast is added to simulate the weight and positioning of the rocket motor where possible. VSS Unity also flew with her thermal protection system fully applied. This makes sure that heat loads generated by air friction during rocket-powered boost and supersonic re-entry cause no damage to the spaceship. It’s a good look though, with the upper surfaces of the previously white feather flaps are now covered in a protective silvered film.
Congratulations to VSS Unity pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Mike “Sooch” Masucci, as well as VMS Eve crew, CJ Sturckow, Kelly Latimer and Richard Starke, for a well-executed flight, supported of course by the Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company teams on the ground.
I still have to pinch myself every time Virgin Galactic does a test flight. I was asked recently whether I ever thought when I started out with the Virgin brand that I would be trying to go into space. The answer is never, but I’m so proud of how far we’ve come and I’m sure the team are busy analysing all the results of the test to see what comes next.