Spaceflight Insider

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo successfully completes first glide flight

WhiteKnightTwo, with SpaceShipTwo (VSS Unity), lift off from the runway on ascent to the first glide flight for Unity. Credit: Virgin Galactic

WhiteKnightTwo, with SpaceShipTwo (VSS Unity), lift off from the runway on ascent to the first glide flight for Unity. Credit: Virgin Galactic

Fresh off the completion of its successful captive carry flight just a few days prior, Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShipTwo (SS2), christened VSS Unity, took the next step in its flight certification regime by completing its first solo glide flight on December 3, 2016.

Though Unity has taken to the skies four times previously, all had been captive carry tests, with the vehicle firmly attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, the VMS Eve.

SpaceShipTwo / VSS Unity glide

VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spacecraft, conducts its first glide flight on Dec. 3, 2016. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

As part of a measured approach before becoming fully operational, this first glide flight was with Unity flying unburdened with fuel and mass simulators.

“Today, Unity is flying light. Mountains of data & analysis preceded this flight; in testing, you check every assumption,” tweeted the company during the test flight.

Piloted by David Mackay and Mark Stucky, Unity was released at 7:40 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (15:40 GMT) and completed an unpowered glide back to the runway in the Mojave Desert, with touchdown occurring approximately 10 minutes after release.

“VSS Unity has landed. Vehicle and crew are back safe and sound after a successful first glide test flight,” announced the company in a follow-up tweet.

Today’s test was the first free-flight of the Virgin Galactic suborbital spacecraft since the accident which claimed the life of one pilot and injured another, with the in-flight breakup of the VSS Enterprise more than two years ago on October 31, 2014.

Notably, the VSS Unity is the first ship built by Virgin Galactic’s in-house team. Enterprise, while largely similar in appearance, was designed and built by Scaled Composites.

The company plans to conduct further glide tests with Unity, with varying mass loads in the spacecraft, as part of the overall flight certification program, leading up to powered flights with the ultimate goal of carrying passengers to the edge of space.

Video courtesy of Virgin Galactic





Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

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