Rocket test for Unity

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity completed its first supersonic rocket-powered flight on April 5. The Mojave-based company, which plans to begin commercial spaceflight operations later this year, said the flight started the final phase of flight testing and provided “envelope expansion for the programme in terms of rocket burn duration, speed and altitude achieved”.

VSS Unity was lifted by its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, VSS Eve, from Mojave at 08:02hrs local.

The vehicles climbed to a launch altitude of around 46,500ft over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Eve released Unity before the hybrid (nitrous oxide/ hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene compound) rocket motor was engaged. Pilots Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay put the craft into an 80o climb and accelerated to Mach 1.87 during a 30-second rocket burn.

On rocket shutdown, Unity continued an upwards coast to 84,271ft. Stucky and Mackay then raised the vehicle’s tail booms to a 60o angle or feathered configuration. At around 50,000ft the booms were lowered again, before Unity turned towards Mojave for the glide back and landing. Mark Broadbent