In 2014, a test flight conducted by Virgin Galactic, the company’s commercial space flight division, ended in tragedy when a crew member was killed in a crash. Now, just shy of two years later, the company has held its first successful test flight since the accident. Virgin Galactic announced on Friday that a four-hour flight had been performed over the Mojave desert at a height of over 50,000 feet, marking the debut of the recently completed SpaceShip Two passenger vehicle, the VSS Unity.
The flight was part of what Virgin Galactic calls a “captive carry” test, where the VSS Unity, a vehicle designed to fly passengers to the edge of space, is attached to WhiteKnight Two, a vehicle that’s closer to a traditional airplane. This carrier aircraft takes the spacecraft into the air and acts as a launching platform, rather than the VSS Unity launching from a pad on the ground.
Because the two vehicles remained connected, this week’s flight was designed to serve as a “flying wind tunnel” test, where the VSS Unity was studied against things like airflow, safety, and performance in the frigid temperatures at high altitudes. Each vehicle carried two pilots, while a flight test engineer was also aboard the carrier aircraft.
Virgin Galactic says its work now will consist of analyzing all the flight data that was collected from the test, studying what went well and looking for solutions to things that can be improved. Once that’s completed they expect to conduct more carry flights to test and ensure everything’s safe, and then they will look to move on to the next stage of testing the VSS Unity.
SOURCE Virgin Galactic