Flight Follows December’s Fourth Rocket-Powered Flight and First Space Flight
Mojave, California, USA (22 Feb 2019): Today, Virgin Galactic conducted its fifth powered test flight and second space flight of its commercial SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity. Please find reporting materials below for news coverage and multimedia reporting.
[ Update: Will add new media here as it becomes available.
News of the day and Richard Branson reaction quotes, per full copy below. Available for immediate use. Please cite original source: Virgin Galactic.
In its fifth supersonic rocket powered test flight, Virgin Galactic reached space for the second time today in the skies above Mojave CA. Spaceship VSS Unity reached its highest speed and altitude to date and, for the first time, carried a third crew member on board along with research payloads from the NASA Flight Opportunities program.
This space flight means Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and co-pilot Michael “Sooch” Masucci become commercial astronauts and the 569th and 570th humans in space. Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s Chief Astronaut Instructor, flew as the third crew member in a first, live evaluation of cabin dynamics. She is the 571st person to fly to space and the first woman to fly on board a commercial spaceship.
In addition to this element of envelope expansion, VSS Unity flew higher and faster than ever before, as its world record-holding hybrid rocket motor propelled the spaceship at Mach 3.04 to an apogee of 295,007ft.
The crew enjoyed extraordinary views of Earth from the black skies of space and, during several minutes of weightlessness while the pilots “feathered” the spaceship in preparation for a Mach 2.7 re-entry, Beth floated free to complete a number of cabin evaluation test points. The human validation of data previously collected via sensors, and the live testing of other physical elements of the cabin interior, are fundamental to the provision of a safe but enjoyable customer experience.
The glide back home was followed by a smooth runway landing and a rapturous reception from the crowd on the flight line, which included staff and some of Virgin Galactic’s 600 Future Astronaut customers.
Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, a born and bred Scotsman as well as an ex-RAF test pilot and Virgin Atlantic Captain, led his crew of newly qualified astronauts from VSS Unity accompanied by a kilted piper.
Today’s flight notched several additional firsts for the industry: The flight was the first time that a non-pilot flew on board a commercial spaceship to space, and it was the first time that a crew member floated freely without restraints in weightlessness in space onboard a commercial spaceship; it was the first time that three people flew to space on a commercial spaceship, and Dave Mackay became the first Scottish-born astronaut (Brian Binnie, who was raised in Scotland, flew to space in 2004).
Addressing colleagues and guests Dave said:
“Beth, Sooch and I just enjoyed a pretty amazing flight which was beyond anything any of us has ever experienced. It was thrilling yet smooth and nicely controlled throughout with a view at the top, of the Earth from space, which exceeded all our expectations. I am incredibly proud of my crew and of the amazing teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for providing a vehicle and an operation which means we can fly confidently and safely. For the three of us today this was the fulfillment of lifelong ambitions, but paradoxically is also just the beginning of an adventure which we can’t wait to share with thousands of others.”
Sir Richard Branson said:
“Flying the same vehicle safely to space and back twice in a little over two months, while at the same time expanding the flight envelope, is testament to the unique capability we have built up within the Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company organizations. I am immensely proud of everyone involved. Having Beth fly in the cabin today, starting to ensure that our customer journey is as flawless as the spaceship itself, brings a huge sense of anticipation and excitement to all of us here who are looking forward to experiencing space for ourselves. The next few months promise to be the most thrilling yet”
12:14 pm EST: Max altitude is reportedly 294,000 feet, or 89.6 km, or 55.7 miles. [Update: 295,007 feet, or 89.9 km, or 55.87 miles.]
12:08 pm EST: The SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity is back safely on the ground after a second successful powered flight to the edge of space. Official apogee not yet announced. Unity definitely achieved 50+ miles, which crosses the USAF/NASA definition for the boundary altitude to space.
11:56 am EST: The motor has finished firing and the vehicle reached Mach 3.
11:55 am EST: Unity has been released and its motor is firing.
11:28 am EST: The WK2/SS2 combo should reach the launch altitude in about half an hour and release the SS2 for its powered test flight. There are three crew persons on the SS2 today:
We have a 3rd crew member in the cabin of SpaceShipTwo today, Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses. She will provide human validation for the data we collect. Including aspects of the customer cabin and spaceflight environment from the perspective of people in the back. pic.twitter.com/WiUxhuf2zv
Virgin Galactic plans to fly SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to the edge of space today. This will be the fifth rocket powered flight and the second to to go to 80+ kilometers in altitude. Currently, the schedule has the WhiteKnightTwo with the SS2 hung beneath it taking off from Mojave Air & Space Port at 8:00 am PST local time (11:00 noon EST).
Virgin Galactic plans to send the SpaceShipTwo “VSS Unity” once again to the border of space on Wednesday morning in Mojave, California (see earlier posting). No target time posted yet for takeoff of the WhiteKnightTwo with the SS2 hung beneath. Winds could always lead to delays. Once the duo takes off, it takes about 45 minutes to reach the altitude for the drop of the SS2. Check updates at Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) | Twitter.
This new video released on Tuesday focuses on the pilots:
Here are tweets about the two pilots, Dave Mackay and Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci:
Get to know @VirginGalactic Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay. He has over forty years’ experience as a pilot, flying more than 140 types of aircraft. He has flown everything from Harrier jump jets, to Boeing 747’s and SpaceShipTwo. He’ll be in the cockpit for our next test flight. pic.twitter.com/HvYoOiXyz6
Co-piloting SpaceShipTwo for our fifth supersonic powered test flight will be Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci. He’s flown over 80 different types of aircraft and accumulated more than 10,000 hours in the air as a pilot. Our test flight window opens tomorrow morning. pic.twitter.com/pn94WNvUsa
completed engineering prototype of the Stage 2 rocket (the stage that will transit into orbital flight after launch) [that] is made from a specially-formulated lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium composite and includes the world’s largest 3-D printed rocket engine.
** PLD Space of Spain also makes progress in development of a smallsat launcher with a reusable first stage booster:
As we promised. #MIURA5 Liquid Porpulsion Stage Recovery (LPSR) reusable booster demonstrator is under manufacturing. First stage of the launch vehicle will be integrated in 1month for a full-scale test in April. One of our major milestones this year. Exciting test to come. pic.twitter.com/b6Tw0dyORq
While most engineered structures operate at a fraction of their material’s tensile strength—how far they can be pulled without breaking—most biological structures, such as tendons, operate near their max. That’s because biological structures are constantly breaking themselves down and rebuilding, which allows for continual repair.
Space elevators won’t require such a strong cable if the cable also continually renews itself, Sun and Popescu reason. This feat could be achieved, they suggest, by developing a cable that’s constantly serviced by autonomous robots. Rather than waiting for breaks in the cable, these robots can dynamically break down and rebuild the cable to make sure it’s always in good working order. This cable would be segmented so that if a break occurred, it wouldn’t extend beyond a small site, note the researchers, who recently reported their solution on the pre-print website arXiv.