Virgin Galactic conducts 1st test of new reentry system (VIDEO)
Monday’s test was the fourth glide flight of the company’s VSS Unity suborbital rocket-powered spaceplane, but the first to test out the unique “feather” reentry system. This essentially allows the craft’s twin tails to fold up, providing aerodynamic braking on its return from the lower atmosphere, ensuring those on board return to Earth safely.
“It’s kind of like a badminton birdie (shuttlecock) you throw that straight up and it’s always going to come down with the nose first and the part that spreads is the feather and it always comes afterward and that’s because the aeroforces always force it to come back in that orientation,” said project engineer Gabe Williams.
The VSS Unity was piloted on the day by Mark Stucky and Mike Masucci, with pilots Nicola Pecile and CJ Sturckow, as well as flight test engineer Dustin Mosher, in WhiteKnightTwo – the mothership which carried Unity into sub-orbit.
Though there is still plenty of data for the Virgin scientists to pore over, and undoubtedly more glide tests to come, it seems now to be only a matter of time before VSS Unity takes to the skies under the power of its own rocket engine, which may be by the end of next year, if Virgin Galactic boss Sir Richard Branson has his way.