Virgin Galactic has edged closer again to commencing commercial operations, yesterday [26 April 2023] performing a glide flight of VSS Unity from Spaceport America.
After a successful takeoff, VSS Unity was released from mothership VMS Eve at high-altitude of 47,000 feet and descended for 9 minutes before touching back down.
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Virgin Galactic said the flight’s objectives included evaluating the performance of the spaceship in the glide phase, following the modification period. The team were also able to continue evaluating the handling qualities and flight controls of the spaceship, and gather data on the new mothership pylon with the spaceship attached during standard climb and release.
“Releasing Unity for a glide flight today is one of the final steps towards commercial spaceline operations,” said Mike Moses, President of Spaceline Missions and Safety at Virgin Galactic. “The ability to conduct glide flights – allowing us to gain critical performance metrics without the need for rocket power – is one of the benefits of our distinctive flight system.
“The data from this validation flight will clear the way for our return to space, and, ultimately, lead to the launch of commercial service.”
The successful glide flight completes the final validation test points, in addition to data gathered in a mated configuration flight last week. The data will be analysed in the coming weeks, and pending this analysis Virgin Galactic’s vehicles will be cleared for return to spaceflight.
Virgin Galactic’s next mission will be a rocket-powered spaceflight that will carry two pilots and four Virgin Galactic mission specialists to assess the customer experience and ground-based training prior to the launch of commercial service, expected in the second quarter of 2023.