Virgin Galactic spacecraft makes first glide since historic spaceflight, aims for space

By Elizabeth Howell,
Published by, 28 April 2023

‘She’s a beautiful glider, and we are able to execute a beautiful runway landing.’

Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane is back in flight after two years on the ground.

The VSS Unity spacecraft from Virgin Galactic performed a nine-minute test glide over New Mexico’s Spaceport America on Wednesday (April 26) to evaluate how well the spaceship and carrier plane VMS Eve are doing after a fleet upgrade.

“What I love about Unity is she is a delight to fly, and she’s a beautiful glider, and we are able to execute a beautiful runway landing,” chief pilot Dave McKay said of the flight on a video released on Twitter.

While Unity’s highest altitude after its 9:47 a.m. EDT (1347 GMT) release was 47,000 feet (14,300 meters), Virgin Galactic pledged future flights would reach suborbital space. The company will “assess the customer experience and ground-based testing prior to the launch of commercial service” when this next flight happens, officials tweeted (opens in new tab); the timing has not been released.

VMS Unity is designed to fly high in the sky underneath its carrier vehicle, VMS Eve. When the two are aiming for space, Eve drops Unity just before the spaceplane ignites its rocket motor to soar up to the final frontier. The two vehicles then make their way back to the ground separately, landing on a runway.

Together, the two vehicles have been to space four times: Twice from Mojave Air and Space Port and twice from Spaceport America. The most recent spaceflight in July 2021 sent Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and three other passengers to space. 

Shortly after, Virgin Galactic said it would suspend spaceflights to maintain and upgrade Unity and Eve. That work has included replacing Eve’s pylon, which is referring to the point where Unity attaches to the carrier plane. Eve performed two solo excursions earlier this year after a couple of years on the ground.

Objectives of the glide flight included evaluating the spaceship as it flew, examining Unity’s “handling qualities and flight controls,” and gathering data on the mothership pylon.

The glide flight crew on the Wednesday flight included Kelly Latimer and aboard VMS Eve, and Nicola Pecile and CJ Sturckow aboard VSS Unity.

See: Original Article