The test flight will see the SpaceShipTwo take off from Spaceport America cradled by the VMS Eve, which will bring it to its launch altitude. Once the pair reach 50,000 feet, SpaceShipTwo will decouple, ignite their rocket engines, and hopefully climb to a total altitude of 80 km (~ 50 miles) before returning to the planet and landing on a runway. , just like a commercial airliner would.
“This flight is expected to fulfill a number of objectives, including testing the customer’s cabin elements as well as evaluating the improved horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during boost,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement. recent press release. “The flight will also carry payloads as part of NASA Flight Opportunities Program. “
The first payload is an experiment designed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) that measures electromagnetic fields from Earth in suborbital space, providing “researchers with vital information about environmental conditions within a spacecraft, while adding to the knowledge about the lower ionosphere. , “according to NASA. This will be the second time that the PLA experience has hitchhiked aboard SpaceShipTwo.
“Accessing these commercial flight vehicles through the Flight Opportunities program is a real game-changer,” said H. Todd Smith of the PLA. “This allows new phases of research and technological development with lower cost and repeatable tests. Without this, technologies that are highly relevant to suborbital flight research would be years behind where we are today.
The second passenger will be the University of Central Florida, Orlando’s Collisions into Dust Experiment (COLLIDE) which hopes to not only explain how human and robotic activity in orbit affects the behavior of dust and fine particles, but also potentially shed light. on the mechanics of disk accretion and the formation of planets.
“Our experiments on SpaceShipTwo are designed to help us learn more about the particular types of dust and particle collisions that previous flights have shown us could be very interesting to study more closely,” noted the lead researcher Josh Colwell, “and correct parts of our experience. it didn’t work the first time we tried them.
While the SpaceShipTwo is perfectly capable of transporting scientific equipment to the edge of space and back, the vehicle can carry up to seven tourists at a time to the upper limits of the mesosphere. That’s a great job if you can get it, as each seat aboard the SpaceshipTwo costs around $ 250,000 to sit, although that hasn’t stopped over 600 people from already reserving their seats once Virgin Galactic has obtained its space flight certification.
On board, Sturckow and Mackay (as well as future space tourists) will be equipped with lightweight ship suits made by UnderArmour. “I can’t wait to wear my own spacesuit on New Mexico’s first human spaceflight later this month and then many times in the future as we share the wonders of space with our futures. astronauts, “Mackay said in a statement.
This test launch follows a devastating plane crash in 2014 that ended with the VSS company (the VSS Unity predecessor) destroyed, co-pilot Michael Alsbury killed and pilot Peter Siebold seriously injured after the vehicle’s pneumatic braking system was deployed too early.
“Since our last flight in space, we have refined and improved a few other elements of the spacecraft,” said Mike Moses, president of space missions and security for Virgin Galactic. “We have tested these changes extensively in the field and on our previous two flights from Spaceport America, and are now ready to test them on a rocket-powered flight. We have improved the horizontal stabilizers (known as H-Stabs), which are the flight control surfaces on the outside of the feather booms. ”
“We have also improved the flight control system that commands these Hstabs to move in response to pilot commands,” he continued. “We have already made these improvements on our last two glides, and they have worked well. Together these mods will improve the performance of the spaceship and support long term commercial service.
The SpaceShipTwo flight test was originally scheduled to take place between November 19 and 23, but recent spikes in COVID infections in the Land of Enchantment have forced the company to delay the test for a month and in a strict manner. restrict public access to the launch itself.
“With safety our priority, we remain committed to completing our first powered flight in New Mexico,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a prepared statement. “While on this occasion no media or guests will be allowed on site, our team will endeavor to capture and share the beautiful images with the world once the flight is over.”
“We anticipate that this next flight will provide us with some of the data that will allow us to complete our last two audit reports required by the FAA to remove the remaining reserve from our current commercial space flight license,” Moses concluded.
With the launch window officially open and the crew and vehicle ready, the weather forecast is currently far from ideal with high winds and turbulence. As such, the company has announced that the launch will take place no earlier than Saturday.
Hello from NM. Vehicles and flight crew are ready. The flight window is now open. We will fly no earlier than Saturday. We have field clearance throughout the weekend and can extend next week if necessary. High level wind and turbulence assessment. Stay tuned for updates. pic.twitter.com/TZC2ebvWAw
– Galactic Virgo (@virgingalactic) December 11, 2020