Wonderful Engineering

Virgin Galactic Space Plane’s Engine Fired Up For The First Time

The chemical rocket engines of the Virgin Galactic’s space plane were fired up for the first time over Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. After the flight, the plane seems to be another step closer to enter service. The test pilots were Mark “Forger” Stucky and Dave Mackay who were controlling the plane. The 60 feet long SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity pegged the speedometer at Mach 1.87 within 30 seconds.
VSS Unity’s first rocket-powered, supersonic flight initialized today when the space plane was carried aloft from the company’s Mojave base by the mothership WhiteKnightTwo. The WhiteKnightTwo is also known as VMS Eve and was piloted by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile.

Unity was dropped from Eve when the altitude was 46,500 ft. Just after a few seconds, the spacecraft’s hybrid rocket engine was fired. This sent the plane on an 80-degree angle upwards. The engine of the plane uses plastic solid rocket fuel and nitrous oxide as an oxidizer. The engine sent the plane to an altitude of 84271 feet, where it went transonic to supersonic. When the engine throttled back and powered off, the twin tail booms lifted 60 degrees into a featherhead configuration which was slowing down the craft while it was coming down towards Earth. When the plane reached 50,000 feet, the booms retracted again and the Unity plane took the position of a conventional landing.

According to Virgin Galactic, the tail boom has the new safety devices which are developed to stay away from the similar loss of VSS Enterprise which was tested in 2014. This flight showed a lot of improvements in various categories like rocket burn duration, speed and altitude achieved. The Unity will soon be taking its final flight test while the engineers are studying telemetry and recorded data on flight, motor and vehicle performance.