Virgin Galactic is carrying out a series of test flights of the VSS Unity suborbital rocketplane. Each test is going faster and higher with the aim of reaching space (greater than 80 km height as they define it) before the end of this year. On Wednesday, Unity made the second flight with its hybrid motor firing: Richard Branson Welcomes VSS Unity Home from Second Supersonic Flight – Virgin Galactic.
The focus of today’s flight was to expand our understanding of the spaceship’s supersonic handling characteristics and control system’s performance with vehicle parameters that were closer to the ultimate commercial configuration. This involved shifting the vehicle’s center of gravity rearward via the addition of passenger seats and related equipment. The rocket motor burned for the planned 31 seconds and propelled Unity to a speed of Mach 1.9 and an altitude of 114,500 ft.[34.9 km]. As will be the case for future commercial flights, Unity’s unique re-entry feathering system was deployed for the initial descent before the final glide home to a smooth runway landing.
If all goes well, commercial flights would begin next year with flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico taking 6 passengers at a time on the trip of a lifetime. Over 700 customers have paid up to $250,000 to ride a rocket to space and back.