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Author Topic:   Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity
Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-07-2015 07:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Virgin Galactic release (May 4, 2015)
Mojave Update: SpaceShipTwo Construction

This weekend marked the six month anniversary of the tragic loss of Michael Alsbury during the VSS Enterprise's 55th test flight. Over those six months, we've made steady progress towards advancing the dream of opening the space frontier, an extremely difficult but also extremely worthwhile endeavor.

While our satellite launch team has been hard at work at our new facility in Long Beach, our human spaceflight program in Mojave has been making progress on building the second SpaceShipTwo. That new vehicle — which has not yet been formally named, though it's had various internal nicknames over the years — is coming along at a steady pace, thanks to the efforts of the women and men in our manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company.

Our growing team is large enough to allow us to press forward both quickly and safely, and starting several months ago now have been working on the second SpaceShipTwo in three shifts, spanning days, nights, and weekends. In recent weeks, we've finished the final cure cycle of the main cabin (pictured above), closed out the main portions of the wings, and completed other important steps in the build plan.

Soon, we hope to take our new spaceship off of the construction fixtures and place her onto her own landing gear for the first time — a big milestone for the team. Of course, that moment marks not an end but rather another beginning. The spaceship will remain in our hangar for some time after that, occasionally moving back onto and back off the fixture as our crews continue installing new items and testing and verifying every piece of the craft. Only when our engineers, technicians, and safety officers are satisfied will the vehicle begin testing.

Our hope is that the second SpaceShipTwo will enter into testing later this year, beginning with ground testing, then progressing through captive carry flights, glide flights, and eventually powered flights to progressively higher speeds and altitudes.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic photo release:
Yesterday (May 21), our team in Mojave lowered the second SpaceShipTwo onto its own landing gear for the first time. Although there's still much work to be done, this was a powerful and emotional moment for our team to reflect on how far we have come.

Of course, we couldn't have done this were it not for the dedication and brilliance of the women and men who make up our team at The Spaceship Company, our manufacturing wing. We are incredibly proud of this crew, and grateful for their steadfast efforts to help us open up space.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Virgin Galactic Appoints Nicola Pecile As Pilot

National Test Pilot School's Director of Operations, Experimental Test Pilot Instructor and Former Italian Air Force Lieutenant Colonel is Newest Pilot to Join Commercial Spaceline

Virgin Galactic, the privately-funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments PJS, is pleased to announce the appointment of Nicola Pecile as pilot.

An Italian native from Udine and raised in Fagagna and currently a US Permanent Resident, Pecile will join Virgin Galactic's growing commercial flight team led by Chief Pilot Dave Mackay.

Pecile joins Virgin Galactic after four years at the National Test Pilot School (NTPS) in Mojave, where he served as Director of Operations and Experimental Test Pilot Instructor on fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. NTPS is the only civilian test pilot school out of the seven world-wide schools recognized by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

Prior to joining the Mojave community, Pecile served for 20 years in the Italian Air Force, initially as a fighter pilot flying the Tornado FMk.3 ADV and later as an experimental test pilot. A graduate of the French Test Pilot School EPNER, he worked within the Italian Air Force Test Center as a 'dual' test pilot, performing testing and research activities on fixed and rotary wing prototypes and test aircraft. At the Italian Test Center, he was involved in civilian certification programs for the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). He retired from military service in 2011 as Chief of Operations of the Italian Air Force Experimental Flight Test Wing (RSV) and other roles within the 311th Flight Test Squadron of that Wing.

Pecile has logged more than 5,400 flight hours in 132 types of aircraft including gliders, general aviation aircraft, multi-engine non centreline thrust aircraft, military jet trainers, tactical high performance fighters, and helicopters.

Virgin Galactic's Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Moses said, "Nicola is a great representative of the cutting edge aerospace development that exists in Mojave and the Antelope Valley. His extensive experience with high performance vehicles, excellent engineering skills, and career as a test pilot instructor, in addition to his teamwork abilities and passion for our mission, make him a natural fit for Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic continues to grow and attract top talent like Nicola, and we couldn't be more proud of our distinguished pilot corps."

Pecile earned a bachelor's degree in aeronautical science from the Italian Air Force Academy and a master's degree in astronautics engineering – space missions from the University of Rome "La Sapienza." He is an award winning graduate of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program and the top distinguished graduate pilot of his French Test Pilot School's class. Pecile is an Associate Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) and currently serves as Treasurer of SETP Board of Directors. He is also a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the National Space Society (NSS) and the Planetary Society.

Pecile said, "Since a young age, I have been very passionate about aviation in general and spaceflight in particular. Virgin Galactic is transforming the overall concept of accessing space, by enhancing space flight capabilities and operations and by projecting humanity to become a truly spacefaring civilization. I am really honored to be selected as a pilot to join this amazing group of talented people at Virgin Galactic, and I cannot wait to provide my contribution to this revolutionizing program!"

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Virgin Galactic Appoints Kelly Latimer As Pilot

Former Test Pilot for Boeing and the US Air Force and NASA Armstrong Center's First Female Research Test Pilot Joins Commercial Spaceline to Open Access to Space

Virgin Galactic, the privately funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments PJS, is pleased to announce the appointment of its newest pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Kelly Latimer, US Air Force, Ret. A former combat veteran and retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Latimer joins Virgin Galactic with extensive experience with heavy aircraft and as an experimental test pilot for NASA, Boeing, and the US Air Force.

Latimer was the first female research test pilot hired by NASA's Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center, where she conducted experimental flight test and test support on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) 747SP, T-38, C-17, 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, BE200 and T-34 for various NASA research projects.

Latimer's service with the US Air Force began with undergraduate pilot training at Reese Air Force Base, TX and as a T-38 instructor pilot. She graduated from the US Air Force Test Pilot School Edwards Air Force Base, where her roles included C-17 Instructor Aircraft Commander, C-141 experimental test pilot, and Senior USAF Advisor to the Iraqi Air Force and its reconnaissance squadron. Latimer personally flew 90+ combat sorties with members of IqAF Sq 70 and flew 130+ combat hours in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. As 418th Flight Test Squadron Commander and Global Reach Combined Test Force, she led more than 650 military, civilians and contractors to execute developmental and operational testing of airlift and special ops systems and commanded a flight test squadron of 280 personnel.

Before joining Virgin Galactic, Latimer held positions at Boeing where she was a key team member on system development, aircraft design, engineering and certification and conducted the very first flight tests of Boeing's KC-46/767 aerial tanker program. Latimer also served as Deputy Director for Airlift Operations and Chief Pilot for C-17 and was responsible for operations globally, managing test pilots and other aircrew to prepare for and conduct safe test flight operations and ensuring the application of crew resource management principles.

Latimer has logged more than 6,000 flight hours and more than 1,000 hours in test flight in over 30 aircraft. She is type rated in heavy aircraft and fighters including B767/B757, B737, B787, and T-38/F-5. Latimer graduated with honors and distinction with a bachelor's degree in astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and a master's degree in astronautics from George Washington University.

Virgin Galactic's Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Moses said: "Our pilot corps, led by Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, is an integral part of Virgin Galactic's talented commercial operations team, and Kelly's impressive leadership in operations and experience with heavy aircraft and as a test pilot make her well-suited for our upcoming return to flight. We look forward to Kelly's contributions in what is sure to be a busy and exciting year ahead."

Latimer said, "I have wanted to go to space ever since I can remember doing anything. Flying is the tip of the iceberg: some the most meaningful work for me will be joining Virgin Galactic's team with their incredible experience and organization to complete the vehicles' design and test and setting up operations before the first flight. I'm thrilled that my test pilot experience has led me to Virgin Galactic and look forward to making access to space for everybody a reality."

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo to roll out on Feb. 19

Virgin Galactic will roll out and christen its second SpaceShipTwo on Feb. 19, fifteen months after its first suborbital spacecraft was lost during a test flight.

The space tourism company, together with The Spaceship Company, Virgin's manufacturing subsidiary, will reveal the newly-completed vehicle at its Final Assembly, Integration and Test Flight Hangar (FAITH) located at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Stephen Hawking, the famed theoretical physicist and cosmologist, is expected to attend the invite-only event to help reveal the craft and the name chosen for the new SpaceShipTwo (SS2).

"We are very honored that Stephen has agreed to help us unveil our new spaceship in February, if he is feeling well enough," said Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic's billionaire founder, in a blog published on his Virgin Group's website last month.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic rolls out second SpaceShipTwo, 'VSS Unity'

"Please welcome Virgin SpaceShip Unity."

With those words delivered by physicist Stephen Hawking, and the break of a baby's milk bottle across its bow, Virgin Galactic on Friday (Feb. 19) christened the VSS Unity, the second of its SpaceShipTwo sub-orbital spacecraft, during a ceremony at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

The first vehicle to be entirely built and assembled by The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic's manufacturing arm, the VSS Unity emerged from behind a black curtain inside FAITH, the company's final assembly, integration and test hangar. The space plane, featuring a new silver and white livery, was towed into position by a Range Rover provided by Virgin Galactic's automotive partner, Land Rover.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Update from Mojave: Testing Testing 1-2-3

Three weeks ago, we unveiled our new spaceship, VSS Unity. As we wrote in the run-up to that unveiling, what we celebrated then was the transition to a new phase of work where, having already spent years testing its pieces and subsystems, we now test Unity as a completed vehicle.

Virgin companies are known as customer champions and our vision — to open space for the world — is consistent with our brand purpose. We were honored to celebrate the rollout milestone with our customers, investors, and families—without whom we couldn't achieve our goals. We even named our new vehicle Unity in part because we are all in this together. So instead of doing our development work in secret, we want to continue to be open in our pursuit of that goal and share our development journey with you. In that spirit, here is what's coming up next for our human spaceflight program.

We started a rigorous testing campaign known as Integrated Vehicle Ground Testing. This includes testing the environmental controls within the cabin, the electrical systems, the rudders and elevons, the landing gear, the feather system, the reaction control system (which allows the vehicle to maneuver itself in space), the systems that mate SpaceShipTwo to her carrier aircraft, and everything else. To the greatest extent possible, we test in flight-like environments. For example, instead of just testing our feather lock actuators at room temperature, we use liquid nitrogen to chill them down to the temperatures they will experience when performing at high altitude. For every test, we start by mimicking the performance that will be expected of the system we are testing during a real flight; and then we push beyond that point to make sure we've got extra margin.

Obviously we can't test our rocket motor inside of our spaceship while she is sitting on the ground in the hangar. So, we've built a flight-like test stand that uses tanks, valves, controllers, and structures identical to what we have on the real vehicle. Because SpaceShipTwo fires its motor while the vehicle is both in a horizontal and in a vertical position, we've got different stands that allow us to test in those two positions. All told, 72 full scale SpaceShipTwo motors have been tested throughout the course of the program. Adding in cold flow tests and multiple firings of some motors, there have been nearly one hundred firings of our full-scale propulsion system, as well as numerous subscale test firings dating back to the similar motor design for the SpaceShipOne program. Developing our rocket propulsion system has certainly been one of the hardest parts of this program, but through dedication and hard work, we now have a very well characterized rocket motor.

In parallel to all this testing, we have other work to do to prepare ourselves to run the world's first commercial spaceline. After all, it's not just the vehicles that need to be ready, our team must also be prepared to deliver safe flights to space with signature Virgin service. Our mission control needs to run like clockwork in both Mojave and in New Mexico, our cabin designers have to put the finishing touches on a spaceship interior that will delight and surprise our astronauts, our crew of space wrenches must keep our air and space vehicles in tip-top shape, and our trainers must be ready to help our future astronauts from nearly sixty nations around the planet prepare for a high-energy experience that for many is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

All of this is hard work, and all of it takes time. All of it takes testing. There is no guarantee that things will work perfectly the first time they are tested; in fact, one is much better off assuming the opposite. Our job now is not to ensure that we never fail, for the only way to do that would be to do nothing, and accept our world for what it is without any hope of ever making it better. Instead, our job is to make sure that our failures are safe failures, and that every test—whether completely successful or not—teaches us something that makes the next test better.

Rocket motor firings aside, some of these tests on the road to Unity's first flights may not seem all that exciting, and certainly many of them don't lend themselves to great photographs or flashy videos. For our engineers, scientists, technicians, test pilots, and designers, these are the moments we live for. The opportunity to take one's ideas and creations and to pass them through the crucible—and then to get new data, to improve the ideas, and to see the fruits of those improvements—this is the stuff we dream of from our earliest days as students.

This has already been an incredible journey, and in many ways, we are just getting to the best part.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
FAA-AST Awards Virgin Galactic Operator License for SpaceShipTwo

New Spaceship Conducts Taxi Test as it Nears Start of Flight Test Program

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) has awarded Virgin Galactic an operating license for SpaceShipTwo.

The license award comes as the new vehicle, VSS Unity, begins to stretch its legs with the first tests conducted out of the hangar. Unity conducted the first taxi test today to evaluate and calibrate the navigation and communications/telemetry systems. Unity was pulled by a Range Rover Autobiography provided by Virgin Galactic's automotive partner Land Rover, the same vehicle that will be used to tow Unity off the runway after flight tests.

The license award, which will ultimately permit commercial operations of the vehicle, was the culmination of several years of in-depth interaction with the FAA. The license review process consists of an in-depth review of the vehicle's system design, safety analysis and flight trajectory analysis, culminating in FAA-AST approval.

Virgin Galactic Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Moses said, "The granting of our operator license is an important milestone for Virgin Galactic, as is our first taxi test for our new spaceship. While we still have much work ahead to fully test this spaceship in flight, I am confident that our world-class team is up to the challenge."

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Update from Mojave: Preparations for Unity's Flight Test Program

In the near future, our new spaceship, VSS Unity, will take to the skies for the first time. Having spent years designing, manufacturing, and testing the parts and subsystems that make up SpaceShipTwo, followed by several months of thorough and rigorous Integrated Vehicle Ground Testing, we are excited to take Unity into her natural airborne environment for the start of her flight test program.

Experimental flight test programs are by definition open-ended, and to a great extent each test depends on the data from the test that precedes it. There is no guarantee that everything will work perfectly the first time, and like all programs seeking to take bold steps, we will inevitably have times when things don't go as planned. Our team's biggest challenge is to use meticulous planning and preparation to ensure that any such setbacks are dealt with safely, and that every outcome, whether it matches our expectations or not, informs and improves future performance.

We are helped greatly in this respect by the fact that VSS Unity is, of course, the second SpaceShipTwo vehicle to undergo flight testing. Our first SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, flew 54 times prior to its test flight accident, generating an enormous volume of data and experience. These data points helped us build safety improvements into VSS Unity. The data also allow us to plan out a flight test program that is safer and potentially more efficient: in many cases we will be re-confirming measures of vehicle performance rather than experiencing them for the first time. That advantage generates increased levels of confidence and should benefit our rate of progress.

In any human spaceflight program there is, rightly, a high level of attention paid to crew safety — including not only what happens when everything is happening as planned, but also what happens when something unexpected happens at any stage of flight. At Virgin Galactic, this approach is brought sharply into focus by the fact that all our flight tests are crewed by at least two pilots. This means that even for relatively more simple and brief flights, we need to be prepared to run a full abort scenario to bring our pilots home safely.

As a case in point, the very first flight that VSS Unity makes will be what we call a Captive Carry test – the spaceship will remain "mated" to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft (VMS Eve) for the duration of the flight, from takeoff all the way through landing. Although it will be great to see our beautiful new spaceship in the air, VSS Unity will be some way from demonstrating her full potential during that first flight. But this flight isn't just a dress rehearsal; it is an excellent way to generate valuable test data. Throughout the flight, WhiteKnightTwo will serve as a unique "flying wind tunnel," letting us safely capture high fidelity aerodynamic performance data on the vehicle. Our pilots, mission controllers, and ground operations teams will gain further experience operating a crewed flight. By bringing the vehicle and our crew home safely after the start of the mission but prior to spacecraft release and rocket ignition, they will effectively also be testing out one of our abort modes. Finally, the flight test will confirm extensive simulation and ground testing by showing the real performance of many subsystems and components at cold temperatures, low atmospheric pressures, and high aircraft-like altitudes.

All of those data points will be very useful for us as we move into what comes next: a series of glide flight tests, during which Unity is released to fly home on her own, followed by rocket-powered flight tests of increasingly ambitious scope.

We could not be more excited to move to this next stage of our test program. After years of important in-factory testing, our engineering and operations team are eager to move out from our hangars and to start testing in the open skies. In addition to providing critical data, the coming captive carry flight will be an emotional milestone for our company — the first time ever that a vehicle built by The Spaceship Company and operated by Virgin Galactic has ever taken to the skies. This journey to flight has been arduous but rewarding, and we can now move forward with the confidence that comes from knowing that every vehicle component, sub-system, and procedure has been tested and re-tested prior to these flights.

We look forward to sharing our next steps with the world.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Update from Mojave: VSS Unity's First Flight Test Completed

Today marks an exciting milestone in our shared quest to open space to change the world for good. For the first time, a spaceship built by our manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company, and operated by us at Virgin Galactic has taken to the skies.

One unique aspect of our human spaceflight program is that—unlike NASA's Space Shuttle, Russia's Soyuz, or other past systems — SpaceShipTwo doesn't launch from a pad on the ground, but rather from under the wing of a carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo (our LauncherOne small satellite launch service uses a similar technique, launching from the wing of a 747). Today's flight test was what we called a 'captive carry' flight, during which VSS Unity remained mated to our WhiteKnightTwo mothership (VMS Eve) for the entire flight from takeoff to landing.

In this configuration, WhiteKnightTwo serves as a veritable 'flying wind tunnel,' allowing the highest fidelity method of testing airflow around SpaceShipTwo while simultaneously testing how the spaceship performs when exposed to the frigid temperatures found at today's maximum altitude of ~50,000 feet and above.

Like every flight of our human spaceflight system, both vehicles were crewed by our world-class pilots; today, VSS Unity was piloted by Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay, while VMS Eve was flown by Mike Masucci and Todd Ericson along with flight test engineer Wes Persall. Throughout the entire 3 hour and 43 minute test flight, the flight crew as well our mission controllers and ground crews did the hard work of supporting a crewed test flight of a spaceflight system — great practice for our eventual flights to space.

With this flight in the books, our team will now analyze a mountain of flight data, learning what worked well and what could be improved for our next flight test. Only when that analysis is done, along with detailed vehicle inspections, some already-planned work, and potentially more captive carry flights, will we be ready to move into the next phase of test flight.

Our first flight test was an emotional and fulfilling moment for our hardworking team, even as we recognize how much work we have yet to do. An incredible amount of research, discovery, and iteration has already gone into this program — starting with SpaceShipOne's initial proof of concept and progressing through the flight test of VSS Enterprise, testing of the raw materials that were used to build our new spaceship, component testing, and most recently the Integrated Ground Vehicle Testing of VSS Unity. The data resulting from today's flight test will be added to that prior work, helping us make our next flight tests even more efficient, effective, and safe.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Update from Mojave: The Next Phase of Flight Test

In September, VSS Unity took to the skies for the first time. It was a fulfilling and emotional experience for our team — but even more so, it was an opportunity to collect great data. Using our carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve, as a "flying wind tunnel," we captured terabytes of extremely valuable data from a nearly four hour long flight.

After thoroughly analyzing that data and completing other planned work on VSS Unity, we are nearly ready to move into the next phase of flight. The results from September's test were encouraging enough that the team agreed that no further captive carry flights are needed. The next time VSS Unity takes to the sky, we plan for her to be released from the mothership and to glide home on her own for the first time ever.

This test will be the first of a sequence of glide test flights. These flights will cumulatively allow us to test and prove the performance of the vehicle in a variety of conditions: both heavy (e.g. simulating the full weight of a load of fuel, oxidizer, and people) and light (with empty tanks) and in between, at a variety of flight path angles and airspeeds, and so forth.

This testing of the "corners of the box" is designed to demonstrate how VSS Unity will perform as it returns from space, after the feather system is retracted and the vehicle becomes a glider and lands on the runway like an airplane. In addition, this phase of flight will also demonstrate and test our abort modes – which culminate in a safe glide back to the runway.

Our team of flight test experts has developed a set of requirements for each planned test flight as well as detailing exactly what we need to test in order to be ready to proceed to the next phase of rocket powered flights. We will fly as many flights as we need to in order to achieve all these objectives.

Our first glide flight will be focused on testing the fundamental performance and handling qualities of VSS Unity. For this first test, we will keep the vehicle at a light weight and will place a "speed limit" on the pilots (Mach 0.6). Once we analyze the results from this test, we will be cleared to go faster on subsequent tests.

We're excited to take this next step on our road to space. In the graphic below, you can see where this milestone puts us on that journey — a lot of hard work behind us and still a lot of important work yet to do.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo 'VSS Unity' completes first glide test

Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Unity, successfully completed its first free flight on Saturday (Dec. 3), touching down safely at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

The piloted test flight of the space tourism vehicle followed four captive carry tests, where VSS Unity flew attached to its WhiteKnightTwo mothership, VMS Eve. Saturday's free flight marked the 218th flight of the carrier aircraft.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Update from Mojave: First Feather Flight of VSS Unity Completed

As noted previously, we'd learned enough from our past test flights to safely take the next step forward in our thorough test flight program. That step happened on a successful test flight conducted this morning (May 1) from the Mojave Air and Space Port, during which we tested VSS Unity's 'feather' re-entry system in flight for the first time.

This test follows after extensive testing of the feather system on the ground.

Full analysis of the data from today's flight will, as always, take time; but initial reports from the pilots and from mission control are extremely encouraging.

VSS Unity was piloted today by Mark Stucky and Mike Masucci, with pilots Nicola Pecile and CJ Sturckow as well as flight test engineer Dustin Mosher in WhiteKnightTwo. Today's test flight was the fourth glide flight (and eight flight overall) of VSS Unity, and the 227th flight of WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve.

Once data reviews are complete, we will move forward with our testing program — pressing onward with additional glide flights designed to expand our envelope of flight weights and centers of gravity.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Update from Mojave: VSS Unity Flies with Propulsion Systems Installed and Live

It was a beautiful summer’s morning here in Mojave today and a great day for flying!

During the couple of months since VSS Unity’s last flight, our teams have been focusing their efforts on a long list of ground-based test and installation activities. With those successfully completed, it was time to get VSS Unity back into her natural environment. So, after an early start for the team, VMS EVE and VSS Unity took gracefully to the skies again today, at 8:58AM local time.

This was Unity’s sixth glide test and essentially a dry run for rocket-powered flights. VMS Eve was piloted by Nicola Pecile and Mike Masucci with flight test engineer Dustin Mosher. Pilots Dave Mackay and CJ Sturckow were at Unity’s controls with a test card which kept them fully occupied as we expanded the speed and load envelope, put the vehicle into the feathered reentry configuration, and evaluated flying with an increased weight and rearward shift in the center-of-gravity for landing.

Our major first today though was that with the exception of the rocket motor fuel grain, called the CTN (Case-Throat-Nozzle), we flew with all the spaceship’s principle propulsion components on-board and live. This meant that Unity took off with her forward pressurant tank loaded with helium and for the first time, her centrally positioned Main Oxidizer Tank fully charged with nitrous oxide. In a repeat of the last flight, Unity also carried a ballast tank in the rear fuselage filled with 1000 lbs of water to simulate the weight and positioning of the CTN.

As planned, the pilots tested the venting of the nitrous tank while still mounted on the carrier aircraft. The procedure proceeded smoothly, as Eve and Unity climbed past 40,000 feet and approached the drop point. After a clean separation from Eve and an approach-to-stall test, Unity’s tail-booms were raised into their re-entry position for the second time in flight. Once back into the normal glide configuration, the pilots used the descent to execute the remaining test points, including a high-g pull-up maneuver and bank-to-bank rolls. Unlike the previous glide test, the water ballast in the rear tank was not jettisoned, allowing us to test the spaceship’s performance with a heavier landing weight and a center-of-gravity towards the back of the vehicle.

Chief pilot David Mackay shared his initial impressions: “We are really pleased with what we saw today. We collected hundreds of gigabytes of data for us to review, and from the pilots’ point of view, it felt really wonderful. All of you here at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company should be very proud: VSS Unity is a great spaceship!”

Lots of data to examine now, but a great day’s work and an important step towards powered flights. Congratulations to our pilots, the propulsion team, ground crew, mission control, and of course to Eve and Unity!

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Update from Mojave: VSS Unity Successfully Completes High Speed Glide Flight

It's been a few months since our last flight, during which we worked through a planned period of focused ground time. This involved extensive analysis, testing and small modifications to ensure vehicle readiness for the higher loads and forces of powered test flight. Today we tested that work by pushing Unity's atmospheric capabilities hard, touching top-end glide speeds as pilots Mark 'Forger' Stucky and Michael 'Sooch' Masucci completed a busy test card.

Alongside confirming the work that has taken place on the ground, the glide flight tested transonic flight performance, stability and control. After release from mothership VMS Eve, the spaceship was immediately pushed into a sharp descent, accelerating to Mach 0.9 which is around the maximum airspeed we can achieve without igniting the rocket motor!

At this stage of the glide flight programme, each flight is essentially a dry run for rocket-powered test flights. Where possible the team replicates those powered flight conditions by, for example, adding water ballast to simulate the weight and positioning of the rocket motor. As during previous flights, the water ballast was jettisoned at around 22,000 feet, allowing the pilots to complete the flight and land in a lighter configuration, again simulating the conditions which will apply during space flight.

Also as a precursor to powered flight, VSS Unity flew today with her thermal protection system (TPS) fully applied. This ensures that heat loads generated by air friction during rocket-powered boost and supersonic re-entry cause no damage to the vehicle. It's a good look though, with the upper surfaces of the previously white feather flaps now covered in a protective silvered film.

Congratulations to Forger and Sooch, as well as VMS Eve crew, CJ Sturckow, Kelly Latimer and Richard Starke, for a well-executed flight, supported of course by the Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company teams on the ground.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-05-2018 08:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Virgin Galactic release
VSS Unity First Powered Flight

A major step forward

We are delighted to report on a major step forward for Virgin Galactic today [April 5], as SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity safely and successfully completed her first supersonic, rocket-powered flight. After two years of extensive ground and atmospheric testing, the passing of this milestone marks the start of the final portion of Unity's flight test program.

The flight was also significant for Virgin Galactic's Mojave based, sister manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company. Unity is the first vehicle to be built from scratch for Virgin Galactic by The Spaceship Company's talented team of aerospace engineers and technicians. They were justifiably proud today to be a part of this compelling demonstration of their capabilities in action.

VSS Unity benefits from all the data and lessons gathered from the test program of her predecessor vehicle, VSS Enterprise. Today's flight saw an envelope expansion for the program as a whole in terms of rocket burn duration, speed and altitude achieved.

VSS Unity took off this morning into clear Mojave skies at 8:02am with Mark "Forger" Stucky and Dave Mackay in the cockpit, attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, piloted today by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile.

The mated vehicles climbed to a launch altitude of around 46,500ft over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and while pointing back at Mojave, Eve executed a clean release of Unity. After a few seconds, Unity's rocket motor was brought to life and the pilots aimed the spaceship upwards into an 80 degree climb, accelerating to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn. The hybrid (nitrous oxide / HTPB compound) rocket motor, which was designed, built and tested by The Spaceship Company, powered Unity today through the transonic range and into supersonic flight for the first time.

On rocket shutdown, Unity continued an upwards coast to an apogee of 84,271ft before readying for the downhill return. At this stage, the pilots raised the vehicle's tail booms to a 60 degree angle to the fuselage, into the 'feathered' configuration. This unique design feature, which is key to a reliable and repeatable re-entry capability for a winged vehicle, incorporates the additional safety mechanisms adopted after the 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight accident.

At around 50,000ft, the tail-booms were lowered again and, while jettisoning the remaining oxidizer, Unity turned towards Mojave for the glide home and a smooth runway landing.

The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing. It also marks a key moment for the test flight program, entering now the exciting phase of powered flight and the expansion to full duration rocket burns. While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead.

Congratulations to our teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for a job well done today — and in recognition of their pursuit to open space and change the world for good.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-29-2018 01:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Virgin Galactic release
Richard Branson Welcomes VSS Unity Home from Second Supersonic Flight

Richard Branson joined Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company teams this morning, on the Mojave Air and Space Port flight line, to witness VSS Unity's second successful, supersonic, rocket powered test flight.

"It was great to see our beautiful spaceship back in the air and to share the moment with the talented team who are taking us, step by step, to space" Branson said. "Seeing Unity soar upwards at supersonic speeds is inspiring and absolutely breathtaking. We are getting ever closer to realizing our goals. Congratulations to the whole team!"

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. 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.

Once in commercial service, Virgin Galactic's spaceships are designed to be turned around and flown at a higher frequency than has traditionally been the case for human spaceflight. The flight today brought that vision a little closer, coming less than two months after Unity's first rocket powered flight. Great credit goes to the engineering and maintenance teams for working through the first flight's data diligently and efficiently before preparing Unity again for flight.

Richard Branson was on the runway tarmac to greet this flight's VSS Unity pilots Dave Mackay and Mark "Forger" Stucky. In addition to the pilots of VSS Unity, Branson recognized CJ Sturckow and Nicola Pecile, the pilots of the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve.

"Today we saw VSS Unity in her natural environment, flying fast under rocket power and with a nose pointing firmly towards the black sky of space" he said. "The pathway that Unity is forging is one that many thousands of us will take over time, and will help share a perspective that is crucial to solving some of humanity's toughest challenges on planet Earth."

The teams will now conduct flight data review for this flight and continue planning preparations for the next flight.

While in Mojave, Richard Branson also toured the facilities of The Spaceship Company (TSC), Virgin's Galactic sister company. TSC is focused on manufacturing next generation aerospace vehicles, with a primary focus on new spaceships for Virgin Galactic's future fleet. Branson viewed the next two spaceships on the TSC's manufacturing line, as well as the production facilities for TSC's spaceship rocket motors.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 07-26-2018 01:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Virgin Galactic release
Into the Mesosphere at Mach 2

Virgin Galactic test pilots broke Mach 2 this morning, as VSS Unity took her third rocket-powered supersonic outing in less than four months. After a clean release from carrier aircraft VMS Eve at 46,500 ft, pilots Dave Mackay and Mike "Sooch" Masucci lit the spaceship's rocket motor, before pulling up into a near vertical climb and powering towards the black sky at 2.47 times the speed of sound.

The planned 42 seconds rocket burn took pilots and spaceship through the Stratosphere and, at an apogee of 170,800 ft, into the Mesosphere for the first time. This region, often referred to by scientists as the "Ignorosphere", is an under-studied atmospheric layer because it is above the range of balloon flight, and in the future is an area we can help the research community explore further.

After a safe landing back at Mojave Air and Space Port, Chief Pilot Dave Mackay summed up the experience: "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."

Sooch added: "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."

Every time VSS Unity is tested on the ground, or in the skies, we gain invaluable experience and fresh data. This continuously improves our modelling and helps us optimise objectives and test points as we progressively expand the flight envelope. Today's test, among other things, gathered more data on supersonic aerodynamics as well as thermal dynamics.

As it has been on previous flights, Unity's cabin was equipped to gather data vital to the future safety and experience of our astronaut customers. These cabin analysis systems record a host of parameters that are designed to help us further understand the environment inside the cabin during powered flight – temperatures, pressures, humidity, acoustics, thermal response, vibration, acceleration and even radiation.

The carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, was piloted today by Todd Ericson and Kelly Latimer.

Congratulations to everyone at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company today for achieving another significant step towards commercial service. With VSS Unity, VMS Eve and the pilots safely back on the ground, we will now analyze the post-flight data as we plan and prepare for our next flight.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-12-2018 03:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Virgin Galactic release
SpaceShipTwo Preparing for Fourth Powered Test Flight

Our SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, is entering the next stage of testing. During this phase of the flight program we will be expanding the envelope for altitude, air speed, loads, and thermal heating. We also plan to burn the rocket motor for durations which will see our pilots and spaceship reach space for the first time. Although this could happen as soon as Thursday morning (Dec. 13, 2018), the nature of flight test means that it may take us a little longer to get to that milestone. It has taken years of design and manufacturing work by The Spaceship Company to get to this exciting stage and has required testing of all the parts and subsystems that make up SpaceShipTwo.

Only once we had completed all vehicle ground testing did we take Unity airborne; first mated to her carrier aircraft and mobile "wind tunnel" VMS Eve, then through a series of glide tests and finally to the three successful rocket powered supersonic flights we completed this year.

Incremental flight test programs are by definition open-ended and, to a great extent, each test depends on the data from the test that precedes it. There is no guarantee that everything will work perfectly first time and, like all programs seeking to take bold steps, we will inevitably have times when things don't go as planned. Our team's biggest priority is to use meticulous planning and preparation to ensure that stages are dealt with safely, and that every outcome informs and improves future performance.

In any human spaceflight program there is a high level of attention paid to crew safety—including not only what happens when everything is going as planned, but also when something unexpected occurs at any stage of flight. At Virgin Galactic, this approach is brought sharply into focus by the fact that SpaceShipTwo is crewed by two pilots. This means that circumstances may require the team to cancel or change plans either before take-off or in-flight in order to bring our pilots and the spaceship home safely. None of this though, takes away the excitement, anticipation and great pride of being at the vanguard of a new space age and of history in the making.

Fourth Rocket Powered Test Flight Goals

So, what are the plans for the next flight? Our window for our fourth powered test flight opens on December 13, 2018. We are currently planning to fly at the opening of that window on Thursday, pending acceptable weather and technical readiness. Overall the goal of this flight is to fly higher and faster than previous flights. We plan to burn the rocket motor for longer than we ever have in flight before, but not to its full duration. At the end stages of the rocket burn in the thin air of the mesosphere and with the speeds that we expect to achieve, additional altitude is added rapidly. That results in new and important data points, particularly relating to supersonic handling qualities and thermal dynamics, both of which we will be watching closely in the cockpit and on the ground in Mission Control. These observations will largely determine at what stage we decide to shut the rocket motor down. If all goes to plan our pilots will experience an extended period of micro-gravity as VSS Unity coasts to apogee, although – being pilots – they will remain securely strapped in throughout. They should also have some pretty spectacular views which we look forward to sharing as soon as possible post flight.

We are at a stage now in our testing program where we want to start simulating the commercial weight distribution in the spaceship represented by our future passengers. Excitingly, we are partly achieving that on the next flight by carrying four research payloads that are part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

Whether we complete all our objectives during the next flight or need to wait a little longer, we remain committed to completing the final stages of this extraordinary flight test program as quickly, but more importantly as safely, as possible.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-13-2018 04:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
collectSPACE
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reaches (edge of) space for first time

A research pilot and a former NASA astronaut flew a private spacecraft on a rocket-powered test flight on Thursday (Dec. 13), reaching space for the first time — at least by one definition.

Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow piloted Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo "Unity" on a suborbital spaceflight that reached 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) above Earth, surpassing the 50-mile threshold that the U.S. Air Force has historically used to award astronaut wings to its pilots.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-19-2019 11:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Virgin Galactic release
SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, Prepares for Fifth Supersonic Powered Test Flight

Virgin Galactic's historic, first spaceflight, was a wonderful way for our dedicated and talented teams to close 2018. But now, with the rocket motor from that flight on show at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and our first space pilots proudly wearing their FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings, we are getting ready to return VSS Unity to the black skies.

With the usual caveats that apply to all test flights, and with the added uncertainties of weather at this time of year in Mojave, the window for our fifth supersonic powered test flight opens on February 20, 2019, and our test flight is planned for the morning of Wednesday, February 20.

Although we passed a major milestone in December, we still have a way to go in testing the many factors that can affect a flight. So, for this flight, we will be expanding the envelope to gather new and vital data essential to future tests and operations, including vehicle center of gravity.

We are proud to be flying NASA Flight Opportunity program research payloads again. The spaceship will be a little heavier than last time, and very close to a full commercial weight.

We are now at the stage where we can confirm some of the aspects of the customer cabin and this will be a continuing theme as we enter this final stage of flight test. It is of paramount importance to our future business success that we not only give our future astronauts a safe ride, but an experience which exceeds expectations. We know, as part of a Group that has led the way in commercial aviation customer experience, cabin design is fundamental to that objective and so this element is an integral part of our flight test program.

As we prepare for this next flight, we do so with meticulous care and great attention to detail. As always, there are no guarantees that everything will go to plan or work perfectly and the team's overriding priority is always to bring crew and spaceship home safely. Whether we complete all our objectives during the next flight or not, we remain committed to completing the final stages of flight test as quickly, but more importantly as safely, as possible.

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Virgin Galactic Makes Space for Second Time in Ten Weeks with Three On Board, Reaching Higher Altitudes and Faster Speeds, as Flight Test Program Continues

In its fifth supersonic rocket powered test flight, Virgin Galactic reached space for the second time today (Feb. 22) 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"

Robert Pearlman
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Virgin Galactic release
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Completes First Flight From Spaceport America

SpaceShipTwo goes solo in New Mexico airspace

Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. ("Virgin Galactic" or "the Company") and The Spaceship Company ("TSC") today announced the successful completion of its first SpaceShipTwo test flight from Spaceport America.

This glide flight marks the inaugural solo flight of VSS Unity in New Mexico and as such is an important flight test milestone in preparation for commercial service.

On SpaceShipTwo's flight deck were Dave Mackay and CJ Sturckow who, together with the team in Mission Control, executed some of the key elements of a spaceflight profile. These included take-off and landing along with high-altitude release from the mothership, VMS Eve, which was piloted by Michael Masucci and Kelly Latimer.

The flight took off from the Spaceport America runway, with VSS Unity attached to the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve. The vehicles climbed to an altitude of 50,000ft before Unity was released, at which point VSS Unity flew freely for the first time in New Mexico airspace. The spaceship achieved a glide speed of Mach 0.70 and completed multiple test-points, before touching back down smoothly for a runway landing at Spaceport America.

This test flight was conducted under a set of stringent operational protocols to ensure safety against COVID-19. Its successful execution was made possible by a concerted effort to redesign all the operational elements required for safe flight test while meeting new health and wellness protocols. These protocols include changes to the work areas and procedures to enforce social distancing as advised by state guidelines as well as universal mask usage.

This flight milestone represents a major achievement which has been in the planning since SpaceShipTwo relocated to Virgin Galactic's New Mexico commercial headquarters in February. Virgin Galactic also fully concluded the relocation of its spaceline operations team and their families to New Mexico.

This glide flight provided the first opportunity to test all the components required to fly the carrier aircraft and spaceship in glide configuration, from a new home base and in new airspace. Dave and CJ performed a series of maneuvers with VSS Unity designed to gather data about performance and handling qualities in order to enhance our aerodynamic modeling and verify against similar maneuvers that were performed earlier in Unity's test flight program. The flight test also provided an opportunity for the pilots and spaceflight operations team to continue familiarisation with the new airspace around the Gateway to Space and a chance to capture valuable in-flight data and conduct further pilot training.

Friday's flight successfully completed all test objectives. Virgin Galactic would like to express its thanks to New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA), the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Albuquerque Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), and the FAA Air Traffic Control Center in Albuquerque for smooth coordination and efficient integration.

Preparation for the next flight will now begin, starting with an in-depth analysis of today's flight data.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company said, "I'd like to congratulate our team for reaching this flight milestone, especially during these challenging times. I am grateful for the commitment displayed by everyone involved, not only in helping to support relief efforts in both New Mexico and California, but also for the dedication and creativity which will allow us to continue safely towards our goal of commercial launch."

"Today's VSS Unity flight is another exciting milestone for Virgin Galactic's progress in New Mexico. We are extremely happy and proud of Virgin Galactic, not only for today's success but also for the exceptional way they have integrated into NM and supported the region and State during this stressful time dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic have adhered to new guidelines set by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to include social distancing and wearing masks. A big thank you to our foundational partner at Spaceport America!" said Dan Hicks, Executive Director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.

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Virgin Galactic release
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Completes Second Flight from Spaceport America

Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. today announced the successful completion of the second SpaceShipTwo test flight from Spaceport America. This flight follows the completion of the first test flight from the Company's commercial headquarters in New Mexico on May 1, 2020, and marks another important milestone as the team progresses toward the launch of Virgin Galactic's commercial service.

On SpaceShipTwo Unity's flight deck were Mark "Forger" Stucky and Michael "Sooch" Masucci. Both pilots are commercial astronauts, having each previously flown Unity into space on different flights. Piloting the Company's carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, were Nicola Pecile and CJ Sturckow.

This glide flight, flown at higher speeds, allowed the team to continue to evaluate systems and vehicle performance in advance of future rocket-powered space flights from the Company's new operating base in New Mexico. Flying VSS Unity in glide configuration at higher speeds enables certain vehicle systems to operate close to the environment seen during phases of rocket boost on a spaceflight. The spaceship achieved a glide speed of Mach 0.85 after being released from the mothership VMS Eve at an altitude of 51,000 ft. Unity completed multiple test-points before touching back down smoothly for a runway landing at Spaceport America.

Forger and Sooch performed a series of maneuvers with Unity designed to gather data about performance and handling qualities while flying at higher speeds. This data will be verified against similar maneuvers that were performed in the previous glide flight to enhance aerodynamic modelling.

The test flight was conducted under a set of stringent operational protocols to ensure safety against COVID-19. These protocols include changes to the work areas and procedures to enforce social distancing as advised by state guidelines as well as universal mask usage.

Pending the completion of an extensive data review of this flight, the team will start preparing for the next stage of our flight test program – powered spaceflights from Spaceport America. In addition to the data review, we have several steps to complete, including final modifications to the spaceship customer cabin and detailed inspections of the vehicle and systems.

Virgin Galactic would like to express its thanks to New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA), the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Albuquerque Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), and the FAA Air Traffic Control Center in Albuquerque for smooth coordination and efficient integration.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said: "I'm excited by the continued progress Virgin Galactic has made in New Mexico and confident in their work going forward. Our state has the opportunity to be a leader in commercial spaceflight, and partners like Virgin Galactic are leading the way."

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company said: "I am thrilled with the team's hard work to complete today's test flight successfully. It was an important test that, pending data review, means we can now start preparing the vehicles for powered flight. Our focus for this year remains unchanged on ensuring the vehicles and our operations are prepared for long-term, regular commercial spaceflight service."

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