10 December 2016
by Joe Alvarez
The new VSS Unity has successfully completed its first free flight! The important test flight marks the first time that a vehicle built by Virgin sister organization, The Spaceship Company, has flown fully under its own control.
The VSS Unity was piloted by Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay, with pilots Mike Masucci and Todd Ericsson as well as flight test engineer Dustin Mosher in WhiteKnightTwo. Over the course of the 1 hour 20 minute flight–particularly the 10 minutes of free flight for SpaceShipTwo–our pilots, mission controllers, and ground crew collected valuable data.
This glide flight was the first of many. Virgin admitted that they have not yet reached the rocket powered phase of the test flight program—first they need to gather test flight data to confirm the analyses and calculations about how VSS Unity will perform in a wide variety of real-world flight conditions.
As expected, for this first gliding test flight, VSS Unity was flying light and slow, achieving a maximum speed of approximately Mach 0.6 while gliding home from an altitude of 50,000 feet.
An initial look at the data as well as feedback from two pilots indicate thatthe successfult test flight went extremely well, but Virgin announced that they will take the time to properly and thoroughly analyze the vehicle’s performance before clearing the vehicle for the next test.