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Virgin Galactic has successfully performed the first human spaceflight from Spaceport America, just south of… The post Virgin Galactic successfully makes first human spaceflight from New Mexico appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.
Virgin Galactic has successfully performed the first human spaceflight from Spaceport America, just south of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, today, using the VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft VMS Eve climbed to an altitude of 44,000 feet before releasing VSS Unity for a rocket-powered flight to space.
Flight restrictions in the airspace above Spaceport America indicated a launch window that opened at 8:00 AM MDT (14:00 UTC) on Saturday May 22, continuing until 4:00 PM MDT (22:00 UTC) on Sunday May 23. VMS Eve and VSS unity took off at 8:34 AM MDT (14:34 UTC), and release occurred at 9:26 AM MDT (15:26 UTC). The flight achieved an apogee of 89.2 kilometers.
This is a historic flight, not just for Virgin Galactic and their ambitions to take paying passengers on a suborbital flight, but for the state of New Mexico as well. Previously, only the Kyzylorda Region (Kzyl Ordinskaya oblast) in Kazakhstan, Florida, California, and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China had hosted human launches to space. Today’s flight culminated a long-standing goal for New Mexico and Spaceport America: to host human spaceflight.
VSS Unity’s first attempt to space from New Mexico was unsuccessful as its engine aborted just one second into the flight on December 12, 2020. The crew was safe and brought Unity to a successful, unpowered descent and landing after the abort.
Problems with VSS Unity and VMS Eve
Virgin Galactic stated in a press release that an onboard computer, which monitors the propulsion system, lost connection and triggered a fail-safe scenario that intentionally halted the ignition of the rocket motor. The connection from the computer was lost due to higher than expected levels of Electromagnetic Induction (EMI).
Some photos from today's aborted @VirginGalactic launch. Glad everyone is ok. This is what testing is for. @NASASpaceflight pic.twitter.com/o4dG3JKHoe
— Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer) December 12, 2020
On further review and engineering analysis, the remedial work to lower the EMI levels was completed and the re-flight attempt was scheduled for February, which was then delayed to May to give more time to address this issue.
The problems didn’t stop there, as in early May, a new issue crept up as a post-flight inspection of VMS Eve called for further engineering analysis to assess a known problem in the tail of the vehicle which was to be addressed during the next scheduled maintenance period. The company says that they have completed the analysis and determined that the structures are healthy and cleared Eve for flight.Flight Updates
“Following a detailed inspection and thorough analysis of our mothership, Eve, we have cleared our Spaceflight System for our upcoming flight. I want to thank our incredibly talented team of engineers, maintenance crew, quality inspectors and support staff for their diligence and hard work, which is testament to our commitment to safety and the integrity of our flight test program,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic.
Flight objectives and payloads
Today’s flight’s key objective is to test the remedial work done on VSS Unity, but also incorporates all original test objectives, which include assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers, known as H-Stabs, and flight controls commands during the boost phase of the flight. The flight also evaluated elements of the customer cabin and tested live stream capabilities from the spaceship to the ground.
Onboard the spacecraft were pilots CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, as well as a suite of NASA science payloads from the agency’s Flight Opportunities Program. The research onboard includes an electromagnetic field measurement payload, called JANUS, from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. It provides suborbital researchers information about environmental conditions inside a spacecraft while also studying the lower ionosphere encountered at suborbital flight altitudes and how it may impact the performance of the spacecraft and the technologies aboard them.
Another experiment on board is the Collisions Into Dust Experiment (COLLIDE) from the University of Central Florida, which first flew aboard the Space Shuttle and has since flown on New Shepard, SpaceShipTwo, and sounding rockets. COLLIDE provides information on the behavior of dust and fine particles in response to human and robotic activities in space, something of great importance for future missions to the moon and Mars.
A third payload on board is an experimental space-based surgical system, co-developed by researchers at the University of Louisville and Cornell University.
Like all previous missions, this flight will be followed by an extensive data review which will inform the next steps in the SpaceShipTwo test campaign as the company moves closer to flying paying passengers.
Upcoming flight test program and future prospects
Virgin Galactic, in their first-quarter investor meeting, revealed some insights about the planned flight test program before heading into an operational phase. The second flight will not only have two pilots, but also four additional crew members as mission specialists. The vehicle will be fully equipped with the completed interior, as unveiled in 2020.
The third flight will demonstrate the experience of a private astronaut, with founder Sir Richard Branson expected to fly to space.
Virgin Galactic said that they have around 600 future astronaut reservations and plan to re-open ticket sales around the third flight.
The fourth flight will be the introductory operational flight and will demonstrate microgravity research and professional astronaut training markets. The company expects to earn its first full revenue of $2 million, an equivalent of $500,000 per seat. Current pricing is estimated to be equivalent to $600,000 per seat.
With Virgin Galactic moving closer to commercial operations in New Mexico, the company continues to build additional vehicles at their development and test facility in Mojave, California.
In an effort to expand their fleet and have quicker turnaround times between the flights, Virgin Galactic unveiled “VSS Imagine” on March 30, 2021. Imagine is the first of its next-generation SpaceShip III class of vehicles and is the third spacecraft that the company has built.
The first was the ill-fated VSS Enterprise, and the second is VSS Unity, currently undergoing testing. The company says the VSS Imagine will soon commence ground testing, with glide flights planned for the summer of 2021 from Spaceport America, New Mexico.
SpaceShip III class of vehicles will enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. Manufacturing and assembly of the second SpaceShip III vehicle in the Virgin Galactic fleet, VSS Inspire, is also well underway. The introduction of SpaceShip III into the fleet will help the company to achieve its goal of 400 flights per year in the future.
(Lead photo via Jack Beyer for NSF)
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