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  Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity

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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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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 01-12-2018 12:15 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
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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Posts: 39168
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

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.

See here for discussion of Virgin's SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity.

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