VSS Unity has tested her feather system for the first time in Mojave. The exciting flight test follows extensive testing of the feather system on the ground. During a full mission to space, the feather system will get raised after the cut-off of the rocket motor while VSS Unity is in space. To test the feather system during this week’s flight test, our pilots raised it down low in the atmosphere and at higher speeds. It was a good ‘stress test’ in the air to complement the extensive testing already completed on the ground.
The feather system is an important safety system and gives SpaceShipTwo incredible versatility. SpaceShipTwo flies in different atmospheric densities: for example, it returns from space through the thinnest upper reaches of the atmosphere to the thick air at ground level. So the spaceship acts like a transformer, folding up its wings to act like a capsule to distribute the heat as it re-enters the atmosphere and then lowering its feather for a gentle glide home. Flying to space is exciting – and so is a safe return home!
VSS Unity was piloted by Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky and Mike Masucci, with pilots Nicola Pecile and CJ Sturckow and flight test engineer Dustin Mosher in WhiteKnightTwo. They flew VSS Unity’s fourth glide flight test and WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve’s 227th flight. Our pilots and mission control are extremely encouraged by the initial reports, and the team now have lots of data to analyse to plan the next flight test. Forger said the flight was "smooth like clockwork", that there was no mistaking that the feather was moving but the feather dynamics (up and down) were smooth and steady.
This was a very important milestone and our spaceship looked absolutely majestic. Our successful flight test is a testament to the hard work of our team’s relentless ground testing as well as our wonderful mission control, simulator and aero modelling teams for their excellent preflight training and for getting their predictions spot on. Many thanks to Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company. Head over to Virgin Galactic to find out more about our test flight program.