We know you will be as delighted as we are to read the words ‘VSS Unity has successfully completed her first supersonic, rocket-powered test flight.’ It is the culmination of two years of extensive ground and atmospheric testing (and as you well know, many years before that for the overall programme), and the start of the final portion of Unity’s flight test programme.
VSS Unity took off this morning in Mojave with Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky and Dave Mackay in the cockpit, attached to VMS Eve piloted by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile. The mated vehicles climbed to a launch altitude of 45,200ft over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and after a clean release Unity’s rocket motor was brought to life for the first time in the air. The hybrid rocket motor, with a nitrous oxide / HTPB compound, was designed, built and tested by The Spaceship Company (TSC) and a proud day for all of the team as it powered Unity through the transonic range and into supersonic flight for the first time.
VSS Unity accelerated to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn, and the flight today saw an envelope expansion for the program as a whole, in terms of rocket burn duration, speed and altitude achieved. On rocket shutdown, the spaceship continued an upwards coast to an apogee of 84,271ft before readying for the downhill return. At that stage, the pilots raised the spaceship’s tail booms into the feathered configuration, before lowering the tail booms at around 48,500ft, jettisoning the remaining oxidiser and gliding home for a smooth landing on the Mojave runway.
This is a meaningful milestone for the programme on many levels, and sure you share the emotion we feel on this significant achievement. Our congratulations to the VG and TSC teams in Mojave who have worked tirelessly to reach this point. While we celebrate that we also recognise the work and challenges that lie ahead, as we enter into the next phase of powered flights and the expansion to full duration rocket burns. We will share more with you on that soon, and will have more footage from today’s flight to share with you later this week.
As ever, thank you for being part of this journey. We know you are steadfast in your support, but hope days like this give it a (rocket powered) boost!
We’ve got good news to cheer up any January blues. VSS Unity just successfully completed her seventh glide flight!
As detailed in our end-of-year email, the last few months has been period of focused ground time. It’s been challenging and at times frustrating, but made today’s test flight all the more rewarding. The extensive analysis, testing and small modifications were put to the test by pushing VSS Unity’s atmospheric capabilities hard, to ensure she is ready for the higher loads and forces she will experience in powered test flight.
Pilots Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky and Michael ‘Sooch’ Masucci were in the cockpit today, and had a busy test card on their hands. Alongside confirming the work that has taken place on the ground, the glide flight tested transonic flight performance, stability and control. To do that, VSS Unity was immediately pushed into a sharp descent after release from VMS EVE, accelerating to Mach 0.9. That is around the maximum airspeed we can achieve without igniting the rocket motor, and our fastest glide flight to date.
As we’ve mentioned before, at this stage each glide 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 was one of the activities that took place in the ground time, and ensures that heat loads generated by air friction during rocket-powered boost and supersonic re-entry cause no damage to the vehicle. It still looks good though, with the upper surfaces of the previously white feather flaps now covered in a protective silvered film.