SpaceShipTwo has completed its first test flight conducted from Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic announced on Friday. The company called this a milestone flight, one that is paving the way for eventual commercial service. Virgin Galactic says the spaceplane achieved multiple test-points before ultimately landing safely back at Spaceport America.
The SpaceShipTwo plane is known as VSS Unity, which Virgin Galactic said was attached to VMS Eve, a carrier aircraft that brought Unity to a 50,000ft altitude and then released it. The spaceplane made its first gliding flight in New Mexico airspace with a speed of Mach 0.7. The company called the test ‘a major achievement’ that had been in the pipeline for months.
The flight was used as an opportunity to conduct various maneuvers intended to gather data on things like handling qualities and performance, Virgin Galactic explained in its announcement. Among other things, the company says this data will help it ‘enhance’ its aerodynamic modeling. Ultimately, all of the flight’s test objectives were achieved.
Pilots CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay were at the controls for this flight, which Virgin Galactic says was conducted with various controls designed to keep the team safe from the coronavirus behind the ongoing pandemic. This work leads up to the anticipated arrival of passenger flights into suborbital space, something that may start as early as 2020.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whiteside said:
I’d like to congratulate our team for reaching this flight milestone, especially during these challenging times. I am grateful for the commitment displayed by everyone involved, not only in helping to support relief efforts in both New Mexico and California, but also for the dedication and creativity which will allow us to continue safely towards our goal of commercial launch.