Virgin Galactic has been increasing their cadence this year as they prepare to start flying paying customers onboard their SpaceShipTwo spaceplane, named VSS Unity. Today marked the highest flight test this year, reaching an apogee of about 52 km (170,000 feet).
At about 9:45 a.m. PDT local (16:45 UTC) the double fuselage plane named White Knight Two, took the spacecraft up to about 12 km (40,000 feet) in altitude before letting go. At which point the spaceplane lit its hybrid rocket engine that burns a rubber based solid fuel called HTPB and nitrous oxide.
Today’s burn lasted approximated 42 seconds pushing the vehicle to Mach 2.2, which is a good amount longer than their last flight at the end of May, 2018. That flight only burned the hybrid engine for about 31 seconds and took the VSS Unity to about 35 km or 114,000 feet. Again, today’s flight took it up to about 52 km (170,000 feet), hurray!
Pilot Mike Masucci proclaimed it was “A million dollar view”. With the ability to take four passengers at a price of about $250,000, I think he’s spot on!
After reaching apogee, SpaceShipTwo goes into its reentry mode, which performs this cool folding maneuver so it can reenter very stably. Due to its high altitude, VSS Unity actually reentered at supersonic speeds for the first time. Marking a good milestone for the future space tourism vehicle!
This was the 252nd flight of their carrier plane, White Knight Two, the 14th flight of SpaceShipTwo and the third flight of the year for the pair.
Today’s pilots of SpaceShipTwo were Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci. The pilots of White Knight Two were Todd Ericson and Kelly Latimer. Congrats to all those involved, we’re so excited to see Virgin Galactic increasing their pace! I know some people might be frustrated at their seeming lack of progress, but trust me, scrubs and delays are cheaper than loss of crew and vehicle. So let’s keep cheering them on as they get ever closer to fulfilling their goals!