SpaceShipTwo tests feather system on latest glide flight

WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic stated Might 1 it efficiently examined the system on its SpaceShipTwo suborbital car that allows a protected reentry on the car’s newest unpowered check flight.

The glide flight, which passed off within the skies above the Mojave Air and Area Port in California, was the fourth free flight of the second SpaceShipTwo, named VSS Unity, all carried out with no rocket engine on board. The earlier glide flight was Feb. 24.

On this check, SpaceShipTwo pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Masucci engaged the car’s “feather” system, which raises the spaceplane’s twin tail booms, after launch from its WhiteKnightTwo provider plane. The pilots then lowered the tail booms into their common configuration and glided to a runway touchdown in Mojave.

“Full evaluation of the information from immediately’s flight will, as all the time, take time; however preliminary experiences from the pilots and from mission management are extraordinarily encouraging,” the corporate stated in a post-flight assertion.

The feather check is the newest milestone within the testing program for the car. “The feather can be raised at decrease altitudes — and consequently thicker environment — than can be the case throughout a full mission to area,” the corporate stated earlier than the flight. “This may present a rigorous check of the feather system within the air, complementing intensive testing already accomplished on the bottom.”

The feather system, designed to offer a secure configuration throughout reentry, was additionally linked to the October 2014 accident that destroyed the primary SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, throughout a powered check flight. On that flight, car co-pilot Michael Alsbury prematurely unlocked the feather system whereas the car was accelerating by means of the sound barrier. The aerodynamic forces on the car cased the feather to deploy, resulting in the car’s breakup. Alsbury was killed within the accident and car pilot Peter Siebold was injured.

An investigation by the Nationwide Transportation Security Board concluded that Scaled Composites, which constructed the primary SpaceShipTwo, failed to contemplate the likelihood {that a} pilot may prematurely unlock the feather and thus took no steps to forestall it. The brand new SpaceShipTwo features a locking system that forestalls the feather from being unlocked throughout the early phases of powered flight.

Virgin Galactic has not disclosed an in depth check flight schedule, however firm officers stated they count on to wish on the order of ten glide flights to fulfill all their check aims earlier than shifting on to powered check flights. The precise variety of glide flights will rely upon how shortly they attain these check aims.

As soon as the glide flights are full, the corporate will transfer forward to powered check flights, utilizing the hybrid rocket motor on the spaceplane. “We’ve got began the glide flight program, and we’ll proceed that for the following few months, after which we’ll get into powered flight over the course of the yr,” George Whitesides, chief govt of Galactic Ventures, which incorporates Virgin Galactic, stated at a February convention. “We aspire to push far into the check flight program throughout the course of 2017.”

If all goes properly, that’s anticipated to allow industrial flights to start in 2018. Nevertheless, in an April 28 on-stage interview, Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson declined to decide to a schedule for starting industrial flights. “I’ve made the error of giving dates earlier than and being incorrect,” he stated.

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