Featured image credit: Virgin Galactic
Hot on the heels of news that Virgin Galactic would begin offering more space tourism activities for prospective customers, the company today completed a second successful test flight from their headquarters at Spaceport America in New Mexico. This is the second of two gliding test flights planned in advanced of powered test flights; the first took place on May 1st.
Virgin Galactic has conducted glide test flights throughout the process of developing their SpaceShipTwo Unity vehicle. Gliding allows the pilots to gather data about systems and performance that help them with rocket-powered flights to come. Today’s flight was completed by pilots Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky and Michael ‘Sooch’ Masucci, who earned their wings as commercial astronauts in April 2019 following a successful flight two months earlier.
“I am thrilled with the team’s hard work to complete today’s test flight successfully. It was an important test that, pending data review, means we can now start preparing the vehicles for powered flight,” said George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company.
After being released from the carrier aircraft VMS Eve at an elevation of 51,000 feet, the Unity reached a maximum speed of Mach 0.85, helping the pilots simulate the stress the vehicle experiences during the rocket boosted portion of future commercial flights. During the flight, Stucky and Masucci conducted a series of maneuvers that help the company improve their aerodynamic modeling and safety.
With all that data, all that’s left is to analyze it and start preparing for the next phase of space tourism: powered spaceflights. This will also require finishing out Unity’s customer cabin to provide the ultimate comfort on the once a lifetime flight. Virgin Galactic’s flight lounge was completed in August 2019, and has sat empty waiting for the 600+ paying customers to enjoy it before and after flights.
The eventual and long-anticipated flights from Spaceport America will make a lot of people happy: Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant at the New Mexico site and has been promising flights over New Mexico since the early 2010s. “I’m excited by the continued progress Virgin Galactic has made in New Mexico and confident in their work going forward,” said New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham about today’s successful test flight. “Our state has the opportunity to be a leader in commercial spaceflight, and partners like Virgin Galactic are leading the way.”
“Our focus for this year remains unchanged on ensuring the vehicles and our operations are prepared for long-term, regular commercial spaceflight service,” Whitesides concluded in a company statement.
It looks like the faraway dream of commercial spaceflight may in fact be right around the corner.