Photos Gallery: SpaceShipTwo Unity’s First Glide Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo's glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides through the Mojave sky followed by an Extra chase plane. (Credit; Ken Brown)
SpaceShipTwo glides through the Mojave sky followed by an Extra chase plane. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo comes in for a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo comes in for a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo rolls to a stop on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo rolls to a stop on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson and George Whitesides gaze out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Richard Branson moves to embrace SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky. To Branson's right in Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson moves to embrace SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky. To Branson’s right is Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic's FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic’s FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

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  • Hemingway

    Thanks Doug – great photos.

  • Hemingway

    Wow – SpaceShipTwo Unityโ€™s First Glide Flight. Maybe it should be re-named “ShuttlecockTwo Unity, This test was no big deal. The engine is the key!

    http://g01.a.alicdn.com/kf/HTB1zDBdIpXXXXb7XVXXq6xXFXXXh/223050172/HTB1zDBdIpXXXXb7XVXXq6xXFXXXh.jpg

  • JamesG

    Incremental steps. Unity has significant changes and is a new airframe. They would be doing it this way even if they hadn’t lost the first vehicle.

    Give them their day. They deserve it.

  • Hemingway

    We, New Mexicans are tired of paying our taxes to support Spaceport America for Virgin Galactic while our infrastructure is falling apart.

  • JamesG

    Keep in mind that there are many places, most of them much better suited, that VG could have built a big pretty hanger and pay rent on than Middleofnowhere New Mexico.

    Your issues with your “spaceport” is separate from VG and SS2.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Gosh I had a 2.5 hour flight in a glider last week, and a beautiful landing. No party was thrown for me! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • redneck

    I tried to tell you that you should have spent a couple of million more publicizing your flight, but you just wouldn’t listen. Is it really worth it to be alone on the flight line just to save a few million?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I spent $30 bucks in tow plane charges. Does that count? …. Great point. I do wish them success, even if the whole thing is silly on the almost 20 years that have gone into this specific thread of alt-space.

  • therealdmt

    Nice! Sounds awesome

  • Robert G. Oler

    where are they on motor development

  • Douglas Messier

    They say the engine is ready to go. I think two more years of being able to develop it has really helped.

  • Pity about the dumb hybrid rocket motor idea. Anyway, since when did spaceships need wings? DC-X pretty much put that idea to rest and Elon’s Falcon booster landings, Blue Origin’s success, along with the folks at Masten Space should have put the nails in the coffin of that idea. Branson backed the wrong horse.

  • redneck

    VTVL may or may not be the best way to go. It depends on your mission profiles. It most definitely is not the only way to go.

    On the hybrids, I could see myself choosing them in the original time frame given what I believed at the time. It is only with more information that I can see what a problem they are. OTOH, Tim Pickens owned a 12k Lox/Kero engine before starting with Burt on SS1. I would have bet on it being the powerplant of choice.

    So while I agree that Branson backed the wrong horse, I might have done the same back then as I believed that they were simple, stable, and scaleable from reading Sutton.

  • patb2009

    Because there was lots of data indicating a Hybrid doesn’t scale well, particularly in Nitrous…

  • patb2009

    How many firings have they made in the last year?

  • redneck

    My point was that I had not known that at that time.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I hope so…the engine of course is essential ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks for the information…I am curious how this goes…

  • Geoff T

    I may be feeling pretty burnt out on Virgin Galactic after everything over the last few years, but you can’t deny they’ve made a beautiful glider at the very least.

  • patb2009

    the acoustics always bothered me….Too many resonances.

  • Douglas Messier

    The residents of New Mexico have a right to be fed up with the project, the continued expenditures, the lack of economic return and the decade of delays. They built the spaceport for Virgin Galactic. Branson and Virgin have not delivered their promises.

    The base cost was $218.5 million, all taxpayer funded. Virgin’s cost of construction was zero. That figure doesn’t include the funding spent on the southern road, which will cost an initial $14 million for a basic tar-and-chip surface. Upgrading it to asphalt will cost even more.

    The spaceport has been operating at a loss for several years. A sales tax approved by voters from Dona Ana and Sierra County intended to fund construction continues to be levied years after it was to expire. Even that isn’t enough to fill the budget gap. So state taxpayers are footing millions in subsidies for a money-losing operation. The spaceport won’t begin to break even on its budget until FY 2019.

    Dona Ana and Sierra counties are poor in a state that ranks 42nd in gross state product per capita. So, this was a major expenditure that, aside from construction jobs, hasn’t provided the benefits promised. New Mexico could have spent a quarter billion dollars on a whole range of other priorities and gotten better results than they have so far.

    It’s an open question as to whether the spaceport will ever deliver on its economic promises even after Virgin starts flying (probably sometime in 2018). This thing was so over hyped by Branson and Gov. Bill Richardson it’s unlikely to ever live up to its billing.

    And guess what? The spaceport’s going to need a crosswind runway. It was left out of the original plan to keep costs down. They’ll need to build it eventually. Taxpayers will foot the bill for that, too.

  • Douglas Messier

    Rutan and Scaled came out of SpaceShipOne way over confident in their abilities and systems and far too ignorant about the dangers of what they were doing. Three engineers paid the price for that on the test stand, one pilot in the air on account of this hubris.

  • Douglas Messier

    On the first three powered flights, they didn’t fire the engine longer than 20 seconds. Thirty seconds or more would have caused serious problems for the vehicle and the pilots. The vibrations and oscillations would have been severe. They found a way to deal with that issue by the fourth flight, albeit at the cost of a hit to performance.

    They’ve now gone back to a rubber hybrid engine (fourth flight was nylon). they seem to have solved the problems. We’ll see when they start actually flying in about six months.

    The bottom line is it took 10 to 12 years, depending upon how you count it, to develop the technology used on SpaceShipOne. That’s an extraordinarily long development process. And it renders the Ansari X Prize a distraction from a technological standpoint. Imagine investing the type of money in a reusable liquid fuel engine then building vehicles around it. That could have been done in less time and produced a better outcome.

  • Douglas Messier

    I don’t think they’ve ever said, so it’s hard to judge their statements. Engine development was always going well until they admitted it wasn’t.

  • JamesG

    All of which has very little to do with the development of their vehicle.

  • Paul451

    Wow, seriously? I would have expected it to be much more than $30.

  • Douglas Messier

    Other than the fact that SpaceShipTwo is still in development 12 years after the program begun, has never been to space, and isn’t anywhere close to flying customers, you are correct.

    Small nuance, I suppose.

  • JamesG

    Not a small nuance. Not even the same issue. Other than maybe if Virgin had picked a “better” place that would have attracted more/better investors that could have accelerated development, or maybe goaded Branson et. al. into actually getting it into commercial service instead of just marketing instead of just sleepy little New Mexico. Etc. Etc. Shoulda Woulda Coulda.

  • Douglas Messier

    Interesting theories. But completely inaccurate.

  • patb2009

    Hybrids have a lot of issues.

    They can shutdown, unlike solids but because the oxidizer injects at one end the grain burns at a variable mix ratio. Hard to get stochiometric combustion. because they have a long chamber but burn ‘at different rates down the length, the diameter changes, so you get different resonances setting up,
    finally, because you have to shut down when the grain burns near the wall, so the grain doesn’t burn all the way cleanly, making it less efficient then you think.

    Hybrids are an interesting technology, and should be researched, but, i’m not sure what the best application for this is.

  • patb2009

    FWIW that’s true of most programs.

    The Russians were doing great until they weren’t…

  • Douglas Messier

    No matter how much progress you make getting the rubber to burn, there’s still a big freaking tank of nitrous oxide sitting right behind the passenger cabin. All engines have their risks. I just don’t know anyone with experience working with nitrous outside of the SpaceShipTwo program who actually likes it. They’re afraid of it. And not big fans of using it on human space vehicles.