Virgin Galactic VSS Unity планирует к взлётно-посадочной полосе во время предыдущего полёта

Virgin Galactic interrupts first suborbital flight in 2 years due to spaceplane engine failure – pilots are intact

We recently wrote that Virgin Galactic is ready to carry out the first flight of the VSS Unity spaceplane with a running engine in two years. That finally happened today, but Richard Branson’s company was forced to abort this test flight from the New Mexico spaceport, returning the craft home before it could reach space.

Virgin Galactic VSS Unity plans to runway on previous flight

Virgin Galactic VSS Unity enters the runway on a previous flight

During the flight, the spaceplane’s engine shut off too early, and the two pilots had to urgently return to earth. The engine stall was clearly visible during NASASpaceflight’s live Twitch stream. The video captures the VSS Unity spaceplane detaching from its carrier aircraft as planned. Then he briefly turned on his main engine, but the fire literally stopped in a moment. In normal mode, the spaceplane engine must remain on for a full minute, delivering the spacecraft to suborbital altitude.

After the engine shut off, VSS Unity turned into a glider and returned to its launch site in New Mexico. The company confirmed that VSS Unity landed safely on the runway after the failure and both pilots Frederick Wilford “C.J.” Sturckow and Dave Mackay returned. “Safe and sound”… There were no passengers aboard this flight, although there were various payloads for NASA to verify microgravity conditions. Virgin Galactic said it plans to replace the engine in the near future.

Today’s flight was supposed to be the third when Virgin Galactic sent VSS Unity into space and back. The previous two test flights, conducted in late 2018 and early 2019, took place at the company’s test site at the Mojave Aerospace Port in California. Following these tests, Virgin Galactic moved to its new main site, a vibrant facility known as Spaceport America, in the New Mexico desert. It is from this facility that Virgin Galactic plans to operate all of its commercial tourist flights.

Virgin Galactic has previously performed several launches of VSS Unity as a glider from the new spaceport, but the device from this facility did not reach suborbital altitude. This flight was supposed to be an important step in preparation for sending the first passengers into space in VSS Unity from the America Cosmodrome. Virgin Galactic hopes to launch its first commercial flights in 2021, with 600 initial customers already booking tickets. Founder Richard Branson is set to make his first flight next year, after which commercial operations will begin.

Given today’s failure, it is not clear how Virgin Galactic will proceed. If this flight were a success, Virgin Galactic would conduct another test flight with the engine running before Mr. Branson took off. The next flight was to involve two test pilots, as well as “Full cockpit of mission specialists”, according to the company. Virgin Galactic has already sent its first test passenger, Beth Moses, on a second suborbital flight in February 2019. But the company has yet to make its first flight with a full cockpit.

To climb to the desired altitude, VSS Unity actually launches in the air. A giant carrier aircraft called VMS Eve transports a spaceplane with pilots in the cockpit to a launch altitude of 15 km. There, the VSS Unity separates and the pilots fire the vehicle’s main engine, starting the climb for spacewalk. Eventually the engine is turned off and passengers on board experience weightlessness for several minutes. VSS Unity then re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere and plans, landing on the runway. Each ticket for such a flight, according to plans, will cost $ 250,000.

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