On May 25, Richard Branson's company carried out the final test flight of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane, prior to the start of tourist operations. Two pilots and four passengers were on board.
A very long hiatus
After the first so-called " tourist " flight on July 11 2021, a break of... 22 months had been marked in the testing of the SpaceShipTwo (VSS Unity), the second rocket plane from Virgin Galactic.
A full crew (including British billionaire Richard Branson) had certainly been able to reach an altitude of 86.2 kilometers (i.e. below the Karman line, however, which defines the boundary with outer space), beating out the first manned flight of Blue Origin's New Shepard, made nine days later (with Jeff Bezos on board) but exceeding, itself, the 100 kilometer mark.
Las, SpaceShipTwo having experienced a serious trajectory problem during its historic flight, it had since found itself grounded, while investigations were carried out and the necessary corrections made.
The hiatus finally came to an end on April 26, with a free flight performed over the spaceport Spaceport America, New Mexico.
Launched at an altitude of 14 300 meters by the White Knight Two (VMS Eve) mothership, VSS Unity was occupied solely by two pilots.
The test lasted 9 minutes, constituting the rocket plane's 22nd mission since September 2016 (but designated as the 24th).
The ultimate test
A final test mission for the rocket plane was held on May 25, again from New Mexico.
The aim was to check the aircraft's technical functions one last time, and to validate " the astronaut's experience " on board, before the start of commercial service.
On board SpaceShipTwo this time were two pilots and four passengers.
The flight lasted 14 minutes, culminating at an altitude of 87.2 kilometers.
Commercial service at the end of June ?
The May 25 flight was an opportunity to celebrate 20 years of work since the first design of the rocket plane by Burt Rutan, who was the winner of the Anzari X Prize in 2004 with the first two flights of the SpaceShipOne.
Commercial flights therefore seem imminent today (Virgin Galactic is announcing them for the end of June in any case), even if the economic model seems uncertain...
On this subject, read the article published on May 25 in Air & Cosmos n°2831 and signed by Jean-Luc Wibaux, who was Virgin Galactic's representative in France between 2007 and 2020.
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