New SpaceShipTwo Completes First Flight

Virgin Galactic’s new SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, flew a first trial Thursday as the company continues to develop the newest version of its space-tourism vehicle. Virgin Galactic called the test, which lasted 3 hours and 43 minutes, a “captive carry” trial, during which the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft carried the space vehicle throughout the flight to monitor performance. Two test pilots were on board SpaceShipTwo, while WhiteKnightTwo (named VMS Eve) had a crew of two pilots and a flight test engineer, according to the company’s website. WhiteKnightTwo is designed to carry SpaceShipTwo to about 50,000 feet, where the space vehicle will detach from the carrier and launch into space with a rocket engine.

“With this flight in the books, our team will now analyze a mountain of flight data, learning what worked well and what could be improved for our next flight test,” Virgin Galactic said on its website. “Only when that analysis is done, along with detailed vehicle inspections, some already-planned work, and potentially more captive carry flights, will we be ready to move into the next phase of test flight.” The test flight was a milestone for Virgin Galactic nearly two years after the previous SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave Desert in October 2014, killing the copilot and injuring the pilot. The new vehicle includes design changes to make it more failsafe, as the crash was found to be caused by the copilot prematurely unlocking the vehicle’s tail, causing it to break up. Courtesy of AVweb.

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