Virgin Galactic Announces Testing Delay

VSS Unity deploys its feather during reentry. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

In a program update on Wednesday. Virgin Galactic says it is “still on track” to conduct the third suborbital flight test of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity later this fall even though the company’s schedule has slipped.

We expect our first spaceflight from Spaceport America to occur later this fall and we are pleased to confirm that we are still on track to meet this timeframe.  In September we disclosed, via our application for a multi-year Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license, that October 22, 2020 would be the opening of our flight planning window.  We also included preliminary test flight dates for our mothership, VMS Eve.  Although preparations are going well, we are not quite at the stage where we can confirm specific planned flight dates for either our VSS Unity or VMS Eve test flights.

“Later this fall” could mean any time up until the winter solstice occurs at 8:30 a.m. EST on Monday, Dec. 21.

The WhiteKnightTwo test flight dates in the FCC application were Oct. 1 and Oct. 7. Neither flight has taken place yet.

VSS Unity conducted suborbital flights above 50 miles in December 2018 and February 2019 from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The vehicle conducted two glide flights earlier this year from its operational base at Spaceport America in New Mexico, but it has not flown under power in 20 months.

Virgin Galactic is planning two powered suborbital flight tests before beginning space tourism service. The first flight will be flown by two pilots with microgravity experiments in the passenger cabin.

The fourth and final suborbital flight test will have four test subjects in the cabin to evaluate the passenger experience.

If both tests go well, Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson will climb aboard VSS Unity to inaugurate commercial service. The company has been targeting the flight for the first quarter of 2021.