Virgin Galactic's VVS Unity performs first glide flight in preparation to take tourists to space

Ready for your next big trip? Because this one might be to space.

At least that is what Virgin Galactic wants. The company is working on getting its SpaceShipTwo, named VVS Unity, up and running to take tourists to space. The spacecraft is not quite ready yet for commercial flight, but it is getting there. 

In IT Blogwatch, our tray tables are in the upright and locked position.

So what exactly is going on? David Szondy has the background:

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity has taken...its first free flight. The suborbital passenger spacecraft was dropped by the WhiteKnightTwo mothership at the Virgin Galactic test site over the Mojave Desert during...[an] unpowered free flight to test the craft's systems and collect telemetry data.
During Saturday's flight, Unity was released at an altitude of 50,000 ft...and reached a maximum velocity of Mach 0.6 (457 mph).

But what does that mean? Sophie Kleeman fills in the blanks:

The plane...was released from the clutches of its carrier plane around 10:40am ET...It reportedly stayed in the air for about 10 minutes during the glide flight, an accomplishment that marks a new chapter in the spaceplane’s journey toward commercial spaceflight.
This was the fifth flight VSS Unity and its carrier plane have taken together, but...was the first time Unity flew by itself.

The fifth flight? Why was this one special? Curt Godwin explains:

Though Unity has taken to the skies four times previously, all had been captive carry...with the vehicle firmly attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
As part of a measured approach before becoming fully operational, this first glide flight was with Unity flying unburdened with fuel and mass simulators.

So what is next? Jeff Foust is in the know:

The glide flight begins the next phase in testing of the long-delayed suborbital vehicle that is...designed to carry space tourists and research payloads to an altitude of about 100 kilometers, exposing them to several minutes of microgravity.
The flight is the test the aerodynamic performance of the vehicle before moving ahead into powered flights...Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses said the number of flights will depend on how long it takes to achieve a set of test objectives.

Why long-delayed? Jessica Chia and Abigail Beall remind us of the tragic accident that happened two years ago:

A 2014 test flight with the first SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, led to the death of co-pilot Mike Alsbury while pilot Pete Siebold suffered serious injuries...the VSS Enterprise was on its fourth powered flight when it crashed, dashing the company's plans to start commercial operations as early as this year.

So what does Virgin Galactic think about this first glide flight? The company is is pretty pleased with it:

An initial look at the data as well as feedback from our...pilots indicate that today’s flight went extremely well, but we’ll take the time to...thoroughly analyze the vehicle’s performance before clearing the vehicle for our next test. We’re looking forward to getting back into the skies as soon as the engineers say we are ready to do so.

So, do you want in on one of these commercial space flights? Brinke Guthrie tells us what we need to know:

If you’re interested in taking a trip of these super better bring your checkbook. About 700 people are already signed up to do so, ponying up as much as a quarter of a million dollars...for a seat on board what likely be the ride of their lives.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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