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Raumfahrt - Virgin Galactic conducts 1st powered flight of new spaceship

6.04.2018

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Virgin Galactic's new spaceship climbed at supersonic speed over California's Mojave Desert on Thursday in the company's first powered flight since the fatal crash of its original rocketship in 2014.

The flight of VSS Unity was a major step forward, said the company, which plans to carry tourists on suborbital hops into the lower reaches of space where they can see the Earth far below and the stars beyond.

Virgin Galactic said the milestone marked the start of the final portion of Unity's flight test program, which began after a 2014 test-flight crash of its predecessor, VSS Enterprise, that killed one of its two pilots and set back the project.

"Back on track ... Space feels tantalisingly close now," Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson tweeted.

In previous test flights, Unity either remained attached to Virgin Mother Ship Eve, the specially designed jet that carries it aloft, or was released to glide back to the ground without lighting its engine.

Pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Dave Mackay were in the cockpit of Unity as it took off from Mojave Air & Space Port at 8:02 a.m. attached to VMS Eve and climbed to an altitude of 46,500 feet (14,173 meters) over the Sierra Nevada.

Unity was released and a few seconds later its engine ignited. The spaceship climbed steeply and went supersonic — Mach 1.87 — during the 30-second rocket burn.

With the engine shut down, Unity coasted upward to an apogee of 84,271 feet (25,686 meters).

The pilots raised the craft's unique twin tail booms to a 60-degree angle to the fuselage to slow and stabilize Unity during the initial stages of descent, and then lowered them back to the conventional configuration lower in the atmosphere. The runway landing was described as smooth.

The tail booms are known as "feathers" because their function is likened to the feathers of a badminton shuttlecock. The Enterprise accident occurred when the co-pilot prematurely unlocked the "feathers" and the ship broke apart. Virgin Galactic noted that Unity has safety mechanisms resulting from the accident.

The "feathers" concept was developed by maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan and demonstrated during the 2004 suborbital flights of the experimental SpaceShipOne, which was funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and won the $10 million Ansari X Prize as the first privately developed, manned rocket to reach space.

Unity is a follow-on production model called SpaceShipTwo, built by The Spaceship Company.

Virgin Galactic envisions a fleet operating from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The company also plans to offer flights for research and satellite deployment.

Quelle: abcNews

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Virgin Galactic conducts first rocket-powered test since deadly 2014 accident

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Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceship completed its first rocket-powered test flight Thursday in Mojave. (Matthew Hartman / For The Times)

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In a major milestone, Virgin Galactic successfully completed the first rocket-powered test flight of its new SpaceShipTwo on Thursday, marking the first such test for the space tourism firm since a fatal accident in 2014.

Carrier aircraft VMS Eve — which looks like two planes holding hands — lifted off from the Mojave Air & Space Port around 8:02 a.m. Attached beneath was the space plane dubbed VSS Unity, named by the late British physicist Stephen Hawking during a 2016 ceremony.

The two aircraft flew to about 46,500 feet above the Sierra Nevada mountains before the mothership released VSS Unity. After a few seconds, the two pilots fired up the space plane's rocket motor to propel the spacecraft to supersonic speeds of Mach 1.87 during a planned 30-second "partial duration burn," Virgin Galactic said in a blog post released after the test.

The space plane reached 84,271 feet before its "downhill return" to land around 9:15 a.m.

 

Minutes later, Virgin Galactic founder and British billionaire Richard Branson tweeted that the company was "back on track."

"Space feels tantalizingly close now," he added.

Thursday's successful test is a significant milestone for Virgin Galactic's testing program and puts the company one step closer toward its goal of ferrying tourists into suborbital space for a price tag of $250,000. Virgin Galactic hasn't officially disclosed a timeline for its first flights for paying customers.

Once Virgin Galactic is operational, tourists will receive three days of training to prepare for their flight. Customers will experience "several minutes" of weightlessness when their space plane reaches suborbital space, according to the company's website.

This space plane has now undergone 12 total flight tests. Mojave-based Virgin Galactic previously conducted a series of glide tests but had not fired up the space plane's rocket-powered motor.

The return to powered flight tests "had to happen for Virgin Galactic to proceed," said John Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute.

"This is a crucial first step, but other steps will have to be taken, other flights will have to happen, before they're ready to carry paying passengers," he said.

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Virgin Galactic conducted the 12th test flight of its spaceship VSS Unity Thursday in Mojave. (Matthew Hartman / For The Times)

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Almost four years ago, a previous version of SpaceShipTwo broke apart in midair during a powered test flight, killing one of two pilots.

The National Transportation Safety Board found that the failure was caused by premature deployment of a feather system designed to help the space plane reenter Earth's atmosphere. The agency later faulted that space plane's builder, Scaled Composites, saying the design should have protected against human error.

Since then, Virgin Galactic has moved spaceplane building duties in-house and VSS Unity was built by the company's Spaceship Co., which operates at the Mojave Air & Space Port.Virgin Galactic said it devised additional safety mechanisms to prevent the feather system from being opened too early.

The company said in its Thursday blog post that its next steps will be to analyze the data from Thursday's flight, and eventually progress to full-duration rocket burns.

"While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead," Virgin Galactic said.

Branson first publicly announced Virgin Galactic's plans in 2004, declaring that his commercial space tourism firm would launch its first flight in 2007.

But progress has been difficult.

In 2007, three Scaled Composites technicians died when a routine test related to the yet-unbuilt space plane resulted in a sudden explosion.

Then, after Virgin Galactic's 2014 accident, the company was grounded for almost two years before restarting its flight test program in September 2016.

In the meantime, other new competitors — most notably Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin — have moved into the fledgling space tourism sector, long considered a dream for individuals who were not part of a nation's astronaut corps but wanted to experience space.

Blue Origin plans to offer suborbital rides to space in its New Shepard capsule, and has already completed seven flight tests of the booster and spacecraft system.

Even Elon Musk's SpaceX has dabbled in the tourism market. In 2017, Musk announced that the Hawthorne company planned to take two paying tourists around the moon.

Virgin Galactic hasn't been the only space tourism firm to face challenges.

In November, one-time competitor Xcor Aerospace filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The company, which began as a Mojave start-up, had planned to build a space plane called the Lynx to carry tourists into space. Ultimately, Xcor underestimated the complexity and funding necessary to complete such a project.

Virgin Galactic will likely want to continue to attract more investment capital for its operations, said Marco Caceres, senior space analyst at Teal Group, an aerospace and defense market analysis firm. Beyond its billionaire backing, the company landed an investment in October from Saudi Arabia's primary wealth fund.

The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and Virgin Group said at the time that the $1 billion investment would go toward Virgin Galactic, as well as the Spaceship Co. and Long Beach-based Virgin Orbit, which plans to launch small satellites from the belly of a modified commercial airliner.

"The pioneers have the potential to really get a foothold in the market, and eventually be the big players," Caceres said. "Or they have the potential to disappear all together."

Analysts said Virgin Galactic will need to continue to make careful progress to build customer confidence in its program. Caceres said the company would likely need to complete at least six more successful powered tests, in addition to other reviews, to make sure all systems are working as expected.

"My sense is that Branson isn't shy," he said. "I think he's going to proceed cautiously, but at this point, now that they have SpaceShipTwo ready to go, they're going to have to continue to push the envelope."

Quelle: Los Angeles Times

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We are delighted to report on a major step forward for Virgin Galactic today, as SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity safely and successfully completed her first supersonic, rocket-powered flight. After two years of extensive ground and atmospheric testing, the passing of this milestone marks the start of the final portion of Unity’s flight test program.

The flight was also significant for Virgin Galactic’s Mojave based, sister manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company. Unity is the first vehicle to be built from scratch for Virgin Galactic by The Spaceship Company’s talented team of aerospace engineers and technicians. They were justifiably proud today to be a part of this compelling demonstration of their capabilities in action.

VSS Unity benefits from all the data and lessons gathered from the test program of her predecessor vehicle, VSS Enterprise. Today’s flight saw an envelope expansion for the program as a whole in terms of rocket burn duration, speed and altitude achieved.

VSS Unity took off this morning into clear Mojave skies at 8:02am with Mark “Forger” Stucky and Dave Mackay in the cockpit, attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, VMS Eve,piloted today by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile.

The mated vehicles climbed to a launch altitude of around 46,500ft over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and while pointing back at Mojave, Eve executed a clean release of Unity. After a few seconds, Unity’s rocket motor was brought to life and the pilots aimed the spaceship upwards into an 80 degree climb, accelerating to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn. The hybrid (nitrous oxide / HTPB compound) rocket motor, which was designed, built and tested by The Spaceship Company, powered Unity today through the transonic range and into supersonic flight for the first time.

On rocket shutdown, Unity continued an upwards coast to an apogee of 84,271ft before readying for the downhill return. At this stage, the pilots raised the vehicle’s tail booms to a 60 degree angle to the fuselage, into the ‘feathered’ configuration. This unique design feature, which is key to a reliable and repeatable re-entry capability for a winged vehicle, incorporates the additional safety mechanisms adopted after the 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight accident.

At around 50,000ft,   the tail-booms were lowered again and, while jettisoning the remaining oxidizer, Unity turned towards Mojave for the glide home and a smooth runway landing.

The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing. It also marks a key moment for the test flight program, entering now the exciting phase of powered flight and the expansion to full duration rocket burns. While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead.

Congratulations to our teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for a job well done today - and in recognition of their pursuit to open space and change the world for good.

 

 

 
 Quelle: VirginGalactic
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Virgin Galactic spacecraft performs the first powered flight since fatal 2014 crash

After seven glide tests, SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity goes supersonic for the first time

Richard Branson’s fledgling space tourism company Virgin Galactic performed a powered flight of its spacecraft today, the first since a fatal crash in 2014.

Virgin’s spacecraft is unlike others because it is launched mid-flight by a larger plane called White Knight Two. This particular version of the spacecraft, dubbed SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, has performed seven glide tests since it was built in 2016. Like those previous tests, it was carried high above the Mojave Desert by White Knight Two and released at 46,000 feet. But today, pilots Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay fired Unity’s engine and continued skyward.

The spaceplane’s engine burned for 30 seconds, pushing the Unity supersonic to Mach 1.87 before the engines cut off. It coasted to 84,000 feet before gliding down again for a safe landing at the company’s spaceport back in Mojave. White Knight Two safely touched down roughly 30 minutes later.

The trouble that led to Virgin Galactic’s 2014 crash had to do with the craft’s tail wings. The wings on SpaceShipTwo are adjustable so that pilots can perform a maneuver that’s known as “feathering,” which helps slow the plane as it reaches the peak of its parabolic flight path. During that last powered flight copilot Michael Alsbury unlocked the tail wings early while SpaceShipTwo was still accelerating. This resulted in forces of over 9Gs, which tore the plane apart, according to a subsequent NTSB investigation. Alsbury died in the crash, and pilot Peter Siebold was severely injured.

Virgin Galactic stayed grounded for just over two years after that routine test flight went wrong. In the meantime, the company built a new version of SpaceShipTwo from the ground up with better safety controls for the tail wing’s locking mechanism. The previous SpaceShipTwo had been built by a company called Scaled Composites, which devised this air-launching system for the 2004 Ansari X Prize competition. The version of the plane that flew then, called SpaceShipOne, holds the distinction for being the first vehicle used for crewed private spaceflight.

Virgin Galactic has been busy since returning to the air in late 2016 for the first of those glide flights. It created a spinoff company for launching satellites early last year, and in October, Virgin received a $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia.

Today’s powered test of Unity puts Virgin Galactic back in the position to ramp up development on the way toward meeting Branson’s ultimate goal of shuttling paying tourists on short runs up into space. When that could happen is still a source of debate. Branson has said as recently as October that he believes his own first flight on SpaceShipTwo could come sometime in mid-2018. But much like his billionaire space company CEO counterpart Elon Musk, Branson is known for ambitious timelines.

Quelle: The Verge

 
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