Virgin Galactic SpaceShip to take mannequins into space

Spaceflight test program readies for third rocket-powered flight

Virgin Galactic SpaceShip VSS Unity  will strap dummies in for its next spaceflight to test how seats recline in space.

The flight will be the first from Virgin Galactic’s commercial hub in New Mexico, named Spaceport America. It is the third spaceflight in the test program for Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism venture and is expected to take off some time in November.

It is now just shy of two years since Virgin Galactic’s first spaceflight.

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Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic President of Space Missions and Safety at Virgin Galactic © Virgin Galactic 2020

Mike Moses, President of Space Missions and Safety at Virgin Galactic said completing a safe flight that meets all test objectives “moves us another step closer to welcoming our Future Astronauts on board.”

This Virgin Galactic SpaceShip test flight will differ from those previously conducted from the Mojave Desert, in that three NASA payloads will be onboard.

“Unlike our Future Astronauts, these payloads aren’t on board for the view,” Moses said in a blog update.

They will instead be on “data-collection mode” for space-based scientific research.

“The payloads will be placed in the spaceship cabin, where we have other test objectives planned. While we have flown passenger seats on previous flights, this will be the first time in flight where we actively recline the seats once in space, which will create extra room when Future Astronauts are floating in zero gravity. For this first test of the seat recline in a space environment, we will have instrumented test mannequins strapped in,” Moses said.

Virgin Galactic Spaceship cabin in Payload configuration © Virgin Galactic 2020

Virgin Galactic will use the flight to test VSS Unity’s full-suite of internal cabin cameras, along with the future capability to live stream footage from the spacecraft to Earth.

Since relocating operations from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California earlier this year, Virgin Galactic has flown two non-space flights from Spaceport America, used to refine and upgrade a “few other elements”. That work included fine-tuning the spacecraft’s horizontal stabilisers, and improvements to the flight control system .

“We are now ready to test them on a rocket-powered flight,” Moses said.

“Together these mods will enhance the performance of the spaceship and support long-term commercial service.”

Virgin Galactic Spaceship seats rotated back in space © Virgin Galactic 2020

“Together these mods will enhance the performance of the spaceship and support long-term commercial service.

“We anticipate that this upcoming flight will provide some of the data for us to close out our final two verification reports required by the FAA to remove the remaining proviso in our current commercial spaceflight license.

“Upon successful completion of this flight, and data review, we will proceed to the next phase of testing, where we will fly four mission specialists in the cabin to test and refine the equipment, procedures, training and overall experience,” Moses said.

In August, Richard Branson said he envisioned personally flying into space in early 2021.

Read Moses’ full blog here.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic has welcomed two new pilots into its Pilot Corps, based at Spaceport America. Jameel Janjua and Patrick Moran were picked from a small group of specialised pilots. They will initially operate in a test pilot capacity and bring Virgin Galactic’s total number of pilots to eight.

Lead image: Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft, VMS Eve and VSS Unity © Virgin Galactic 2020

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