Virgin Galactic has managed to successfully complete a suborbital test of the VSS Unity spaceplane. This brings the company one step closer to resuming its space tourism services.
During the test, VMS Eve took off from Spaceport America with VSS Unity tucked between its twin fuselages. After reaching an altitude of 47,000 feet, Eve released Unity, which then landed back at Spaceport America.
The test indicates the completion of the final glide test before the rocket-powered spaceflight tests. Virgin Galactic is unlike its sibling company, Virgin Orbit, which is in the business of providing satellite launch services.
Earlier this month, Virgin Orbit had to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to financial troubles caused by a single, disappointing $100 filter that caused a rocket crash, destroying seven payloads. The VSS Unity spacecraft did not make a powered flight with its rocket engine during this test.
Virgin Galactic chief pilot Dave Mackay explained how unique the VSS Unity’s noise-free glide is in a video.
The next mission will most likely be a powered spaceflight. It will carry two pilots and four company employees who will examine the customer experience during the mission.
If the review goes well, Virgin Galactic is willing to commence commercial service in 2023. The first commercial flight will carry officials from the Italian Air Force. Wednesday’s flight was the first time that VSS Unity completed a flight independent of its carrier aircraft since July 2021.
The data collected during the flight will be analyzed in the coming weeks. The next Unity missions should be a pair of rocket-powered flights. Upcoming spaceflight tests will be used to assess the customer experience and ground-based testing.
Pilots for the VSS Unity were CJ Sturckkow and Nicola Pecile, and for the VMS Eve were Kelly Latimer and Jameel Janjua. The data from this test flight will clear the way for Virgin Galactic’s return to space and launch of commercial service.
Virgin Galactic resumed VMS Eve flights this past February after a 16-month-long pause. The company has grounded both the aircraft and spacecraft for modifications to increase the flight rate and reliability of the vehicles.
Virgin Galactic hit some turbulence with Unity in February after a stockholder filed a lawsuit alleging that Branson and company executives lied about how good and safe their spaceplanes were in a bid to inflate Virgin Galactic’s stock price.