Space: Virgin Galactic ship tests its feathering
Although it still hasn’t reached space, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo flew slightly longer and higher than it did on its first powered flight in April – and this time it also deployed a safety mechanism called feathering as it descended back through Earth’s atmosphere.
The launch began at approximately 8 am local time yesterday, when the company’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft took off from Mojave, California. Once it reached an altitude of 14 kilometres, the carrier released SpaceShipTwo to fly by its own rocket power.
The spaceship then broke the sound barrier, accelerating to Mach 1.43 and reaching a maximum altitude of 21 kilometres. The engine burn lasted 20 seconds. That’s 4 seconds longer and about 4 kilometres higher than last time, on SpaceShipTwo’s first flight.
The craft’s rockets will have to sustain a 70 second flight to reach space, but Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson was excited nonetheless. “This is a giant step,” he wrote on his blog last Thursday. “Our spaceship is now the highest commercial winged vehicle in history!”
For an onboard view of the flight, you can watch the video below, shot from the rocket’s tail.
On its descent, pilots Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols manoeuvred the craft’s wings 65 degrees upwards into a shuttlecock-like position. Called feathering, that creates a powerful drag, allowing a slower, safer re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Branson’s goal is to start commercial services in 2014, carrying an already long list of eager passengers on sub-orbital flights to space. Virgin Galactic signed up its 600th passenger for SpaceShipTwo in June.
Syndicated content: Alyssa A. Botelho, New Scientist