New SpaceShipTwo Completes Captive Carry Flight

The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Today marks an exciting milestone in our shared quest to open space to change the world for good. For the first time, a spaceship built by our manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company, and operated by us at Virgin Galactic has taken to the skies.

One unique aspect of our human spaceflight program is that—unlike NASA’s Space Shuttle, Russia’s Soyuz, or other past systems—SpaceShipTwo doesn’t launch from a pad on the ground, but rather from under the wing of a carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo (our LauncherOne small satellite launch service uses a similar technique, launching from the wing of a 747). Today’s flight test was what we called a ‘captive carry’ flight, during which VSS Unity remained mated to our WhiteKnightTwo mothership (VMS Eve) for the entire flight from takeoff to landing.

In this configuration, WhiteKnightTwo serves as a veritable ‘flying wind tunnel,’ allowing the highest fidelity method of testing airflow around SpaceShipTwo while simultaneously testing how the spaceship performs when exposed to the frigid temperatures found at today’s maximum altitude of ~50,000 feet and above.

Like every flight of our human spaceflight system, both vehicles were crewed by our world-class pilots; today, VSS Unity was piloted by Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay, while VMS Eve was flown by Mike Masucci and Todd Ericson along with flight test engineer Wes Persall. Throughout the entire 3 hour and 43 minute test flight, the flight crew as well our mission controllers and ground crews did the hard work of supporting a crewed test flight of a spaceflight system—great practice for our eventual flights to space.

With this flight in the books, our team will now analyze a mountain of flight data, learning what worked well and what could be improved for our next flight test. Only when that analysis is done, along with detailed vehicle inspections, some already-planned work, and potentially more captive carry flights, will we be ready to move into the next phase of test flight.

Our first flight test was an emotional and fulfilling moment for our hardworking team, even as we recognize how much work we have yet to do. An incredible amount of research, discovery, and iteration has already gone into this program—starting with SpaceShipOne’s initial proof of concept and progressing through the flight test of VSS Enterprise, testing of the raw materials that were used to build our new spaceship, component testing, and most recently the Integrated Ground Vehicle Testing of VSS Unity. The data resulting from today’s flight test will be added to that prior work, helping us make our next flight tests even more efficient, effective, and safe.

Please stay tuned to this site and our social media channels (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn) for more information as our flight testing program progresses.

  • mlc449

    Soooooo, about those planned “spaceflights”, any word yet on a launch date?

  • savuporo

    I think they’ll do themselves a favor and just keep a lid on announcements and dates this time around. It’s taken a decade, whats a few more years to make sure nobody gets hurt this time.

  • Conway Costigan

    These bizarre hobby projects of bored billionaires are disgusting and the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration.

  • JamesG

    But still better than nothing happening to space exploration.

  • Conway Costigan

    No. Very bad when a gullible public is conned into thinking these worthless contraptions actually have something to do with space exploration. Just like you thinking this has something to do with expanding humankind into the solar system. It does not.

  • JamesG

    All aboard Conway’s Gub’erment bus!

  • redneck

    Right on James, perfect safety from rockets that never fly or get properly tested.

  • Conway Costigan

    Redneck’s in space. Kind of like gays in space except stupid.

  • Hemingway

    I would like to know about SpaceSpaceTwo’s engine. The whole Virgin Galactic operation is more like a grandiose carnival ride rather than the future of space flight – P. T. Branson.

    http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.2491614.1452459624!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_750/trump11n-8-web.jpg

  • windbourne

    who said that this was about space exploration?
    This is meant to expose ppl to low gs and give them a cheap glimpse of what space is like.
    Once they and Blue are going, it should do just that.

  • Conway Costigan

    Riiiiight. Cheap. Uh-huh.

    It’s a freak show and the clowns that are excited about it are beyond help.

  • Bernardo_de_la_Paz

    Please pay closer attention to which “bizarre hobby projects” you are commenting on. This particular project is not about one of the “bored billionaires” using government contracts to build his toys, it is about some of the “bored billionaires” using their own money to play with their own toys. Its their business what they do with their money. I find it interesting and am grateful they are willing to share news of their work with us. If it doesn’t interest you, then why are you reading about it, let alone commenting on it?

  • therealdmt

    If nothing else, you gotta hand it to ’em at least when it comes to stick-to-it-tiveness.

  • JamesG

    If it were easy, someone would have done it by now and everyone would be doing it.

  • Douglas Messier

    The schedule seems to be as follows:

    Conduct captive carry and glide tests this year. I have heard 7 tests are scheduled.

    Begin powered flights in 2017. I’ve heard they are planning a dozen flights of various lengths.

    Of course, this is a flight test program, so schedules will likely change and flights could be added or subtracted depending upon how things go.

    Given that Branson spent a decade making predictions and was right precisely once (the first powered flight), the decision to silence him and stop making predictions is a good one. It means they’re finally setting some realistic expectations for the program.

    SpaceShipTwo has been a major marketing and branding tool for the Virgin Group. They got a lot of use out of it without getting anywhere near space. Then a fatal event happened that couldn’t be dismissed as an Industrial accident like the test stand explosion, and SpaceShipTwo has taken a different aura to it.

  • SilveradoCyn

    VG – Welcome back into flight testing. It has been far too long.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    When is your turn to fly in space coming?

  • Paul451

    Gary, why do you keep coming back to a site that banned you? In all seriousness, what do you get out of it?

  • Spacetech

    I too recognized that familiar odor.

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    Next year, duh….

  • mlc449

    Always just “next year”. 😉