SpaceShipTwo flies a ‘dry run’ for blastoff

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity glides through a test flight. (Virgin Galactic Photo)

Virgin Galactic said its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane today executed a successful gliding flight test that was “essentially a dry run for rocket-powered flights.”

“Our major first today though was that with the exception of the rocket motor fuel grain … we flew with all the spaceship’s principal propulsion components on-board and live,” the company said in a post-flight statement.

The hybrid propulsion system’s tanks were pressurized with helium and nitrous oxide, and the plane carried a ballast tank filled with a half-ton of water to simulate the weight and positioning of the solid-rocket motor. The pilots even practiced venting nitrous oxide while the rocket plane, christened VSS Unity, was still mounted on its White Knight Two mothership.

The mothership, known as VMS Eve, carried Unity to an altitude of more than 40,000 feet and released it for flight. Unity then glided back down to its home base at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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