Gallery: Thursday’s rocket-powered flight sees VSS Unity break Mach 2
MOJAVE, Calif. — In a span of less than four months, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity has carried out three “rocket-powered” supersonic flights. The most recent test took place on Thursday, July 26, 2018.
Test pilots Dave Mackay and Mike “Sooch” Masucci aboard the VSS Unity were dropped from the VMS Eve carrier aircraft (which was piloted by Todd Ericson and Kelly Latimer) at an altitude of about 46,500 feet (14,173 meters).
The duo aboard VSS Unity then activated the spacecraft’s rocket motor and entered into an almost vertical ascent, reaching speeds of Mach 2.47 (2,780 feet per second) and an altitude of some 170,800 feet (52,060 meters).
“Having been a U2 pilot and done a lot of high altitude work, or what I thought was high altitude work, the view from 170,000 ft was just totally amazing. The flight was exciting and frankly beautiful. We were able to complete a large number of test points which will give us good insight as we progress to our goal of commercial service,” Masucci said.
The test flight saw the pilots travel through Earth’s Stratosphere and into the Mesosphere.
“It was a thrill from start to finish. Unity’s rocket motor performed magnificently again and Sooch pulled off a smooth landing. This was a new altitude record for both of us in the cockpit, not to mention our mannequin in the back, and the views of Earth from the black sky were magnificent,” Mackay said after the pair had touched down at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
Thursday’s flight helped to gather data about Unity’s supersonic aerodynamics as well as thermal dynamics. The team assembled by Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company will now use data from equipment within Unity’s cabin to improve the spacecraft’s design. A release issued by Virgin Galactic stated that data regarding: temperatures, pressures, humidity, acoustics, thermal response, vibration, acceleration and even radiation – was collected during the July 26 flight.
It is hoped that these test flights will to wealthy adventure-toursists to travel into space for suborbital hops.
Photos courtesy of Matthew Kuhns of SpaceFlight Insider’s visual team.