Virgin's USS Unity spaceplane completes a critical suborbital test flight

Virgin Galactic announced yesterday that they have successfully completed a suborbital test flight of the company's VSS Unity spaceplane.
Christopher McFadden
VSS Unity completes suborbital test.
VSS Unity completes suborbital test.

Virgin Galactic/Twitter 

According to a press release from Virgin Galactic (not to be confused with the recently wound-up Virgin Orbit), its rocket-powered spaceplane has completed its final glide flight. This is a critical step to enable the company to resume its space tourism services shortly.

The suborbital test (around 62 miles to 100 kilometers above sea level) using the company's VSS Unity spaceplane. VSS Unity completed its final glide test on the morning of April 26 in New Mexico, according to a press release from Virgin Galactic. At 8:35 am Eastern Time (ET), VMS Eve was lifted off from Spaceport America with VSS Unity firmly attached between its twin fuselages. At 9:47 am. ET. VMS Eve released VSS Unity after ascending to a height of 47,000 feet (14.3 kilometers), and the spacecraft returned to Spaceport America nine minutes later.

The next VSS Unity trip should be a rocket-powered test sometime before the end of the year's second quarter, notwithstanding Virgin Galactic's claim that the data from this test flight will be analyzed over the ensuing weeks. This afternoon, Virgin Galactic said on Twitter that it would utilize future spaceflight flights to “assess the customer experience and ground-based testing” before the company re-opens up spaceflight for commercial service."

“Releasing Unity for a glide flight today is one of the final steps towards commercial spaceline operations,” said Mike Moses, president of Spaceline Missions and Safety at Virgin Galactic, in the press release. “The data from this validation flight will clear the way for our return to space and, ultimately, lead to the launch of commercial service,” he added.

There was a pause in VMS Eve's suborbital flights for almost two years before a test was conducted. In February, Virgin Galactic resumed VMS Eve flights to inspect an upgrade to the four-point launch tower, which the mothership uses to lift spaceplanes to great heights.

VMS Eve's previous flight was in October 2021, from Spaceport America in New Mexico to Mojave, California. In addition, Virgin Galactic faced some issues with VSS Unity in February when stockholder Yousef Abughazaleh filed a lawsuit in Delaware, alleging that Branson and other company executives had misled investors about the reliability and security of the spaceplanes to increase Virgin Galactic's stock price.

Virgin Galactic received approval from the FAA to transport passengers to space more than two years ago. However, the company has been eagerly awaiting further spaceflight tests. In July 2021, a highly anticipated billionaire space race was held between Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos. Branson successfully achieved a ride to a height of 50 miles (80.4 km).

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