Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s tourism space company, plans to offer commercial flights in orbit around the world by the end of 2020. That seems to be a tight deadline, but it is clear that Virgin Galactic is getting ready for real flights.
The space company has announced that the second air glide test of the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft has also been successfully completed at its Spaceport America HQ in New Mexico.
The VSS Unity achieved a glide speed of Mach 0.85 (1050 km/h)after being released from the mothership VMS Eve at an altitude of 51,000 ft (15.5km). This time, the spacecraft moved slightly faster compared to Mach 0.70 (864 km/h) in the previous test flight. After being released, VSS Unity successfully managed to land in the company’s flight center by gliding through the air.
The two test pilots performed a number of maneuvers to collect data on the performance and operating qualities while flying at higher speeds. The data collected is now compared with data from comparable maneuvers from the previous test flight to better calculate aerodynamic forces.
“It was an important test that, pending data review, means we can now start preparing the vehicles for powered flight. Our focus for this year remains unchanged on ensuring the vehicles and our operations are prepared for long-term, regular commercial spaceflight service,” said George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company.
Depending on the results of the assessment of the collected data, Virgin Galactic will now prepare for the next phase of the test program: space flights from Spaceport America with the rocket engine ignited. Before that, there are also some modifications to make to the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft.