Virgin Galactic performed another in-flight test of their VSS Unity spaceplane on May 1, 2017. This time main purpose of free glide flight was test of feather system.
This flight is part of flight campaign planned for 2016-2017 with one objective: to test all the systems of VSS Unity to make first engine flight possible already in the second half of the 2017. To remind, VSS Unity is second prototype representing SpaceShipTwo class space planes, which replaced lost in October 2014 VSS Enterprise in tragic accident which caused death of Co-pilot and serious injuries for Pilot.
After almost exactly two years, Virgin Galactic decided to resume flights on 3rd December 2016. First phase of the campaign was planned with free glide flights, with ballast instead real propellant and engines. Unity was planned to be delivered to planned altitude under VMS Eve WhiteKnightTwo starting from Mojave Air and Space Port. These flights took place also on December 22, 2016 and February 24, 2017. Every time after gliding, VSS Unity returned safely to Mojave Airfield, which kept status of test airfield for SpaceShipTwo class space planes. Yesterday’s flight was also performed from Mojave Air and Space Port, with VMS Eve WhiteKnightTwo as mother plane. Pilots were Mark Stucky and Mike Masucci, as flight test engineer was chosen Dustin Mosher. He was controlling flight parameters and deploying process in VMS Eve.
At 09:43 local time VMS Eve with VSS unity attached took off from the airfield at Mojave Air and Space Port. After reaching correct altitude it set course to prepare for deploying VSS Unity. At 10:23 local time VSS Unity was deployed and started its glide flight. As it was mentioned above, yesterday crew had ultimate objective – perform test of feather system which will be used for reentry during real missions. Feathers are two vertical stabilizers on both sides of the space plane fixed to two tails. Tails are attached to fuselage and are able to be moved vertically up and down. This action causes in flight raise of the nose of the plane what reduces speed of the vehicle. After one minute of free flight at 10:32 local time, process of the raising feathers was initiated and for people observing flight from the ground it was clearly visible, that vehicle begun to fly with raised nose, while feathers remained parallel to flight line. After one minutes feathers returned to previous position and VSS Unity finished its flight with sharp angle of attack. At 10:41 local time VSS Unity landed on the same airfield; after another 48 minutes VMS Eve returned safely to base.
On picture above: SpaceShipTwo with feathers raised.