Virgin Galactic, a spaceflight company, has successfully completed the first test flight of its SpaceShipTwo with a self-landing on the runway of Spaceport America in New Mexico, where the aircraft was recently transported for the final stage of development.
The device was lifted into the air by the mothership, VMS Eve, which was piloted by Michael Masucci and Kelly Latimer. At an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,240 meters), the spacecraft separated from the carrier and flew freely for the first time in New Mexico airspace, reaching a speed of Mach 0.70 (864 km/h).
On SpaceShipTwo’s flight deck were Dave Mackay and CJ Sturckow, who, together with specialists of the mission control center, completed multiple test-points, before touching back down smoothly for a runway landing at Spaceport America. The flight organizers emphasize that it was carried out in accordance with a set of strict action protocols designed to ensure security from COVID-19.
The result? The vehicle flew alone for the first time. However, this is only the first test flight, which will be followed by other tests before the commercial service can be started. According to project participants, the test flight is an important milestone on the road to commercial operation of the ship.
The Virgin Galactic team is working on the development of SpaceShipTwo, a low-aspect-ratio passenger spaceplane, which sits eight people onboard – six passengers and two pilots. SpaceShipTwo will reach 4,200 km/h (2,600 mph), using a single hybrid rocket engine, and reaches the supersonic speed within 8 seconds. SpaceShipTwo’s crew cabin is 3.7 m (12 ft) long and 2.3 m (7.5 ft) in diameter. The wingspan is 8.2 m (27 ft), the length is 18 m (60 ft), and the tail height is 4.6 m (15 ft).