August 4, 2017, was indeed an important day for Virgin Galactic. The company just conducted its latest glide flight on its SpaceShipTwo, officially known as VSS Unity. It was the sixth test glide for the spaceplane and the first in two months. Before the company moves on to rocket-propelled tests, this reusable vehicle still has between two to nine more staged glides to go. However, what makes it special is that it serves as a “dry run” for upcoming powered test flights. It carried propulsion materials onboard, along with ballast tank filled with water to simulate the weight of fuel casing, and flew with the configuration of that of a powered flight.
VSS Unity was carried up by its mothership VMS Eve to 40,000 feet in the air before being dropped, just like the previous test. However, unlike the previous test, VSS Unity didn’t omit the water ballast this time, which gave Virgin Galactic a chance to collect data on how the vehicle operates when landing with a heavier weight, centered towards its rear.
Note that, VSS Unity is the company’s second SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. The first SpaceShipTwo, known as VSS Enterprise, was tragically broke-up mid flight in 2014 as the co-pilot unlocked the feathering system too early. The feathering system is the process of moving the plane’s wings to increase drag during re-entry. The latest one still uses the feathering system, with additional safety measures to prevent another crash.
Once the spacecraft is ready, Virgin Galactic has the plan to use this vehicle to go to suborbital space carrying passengers, including some celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Lady Gaga.