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Image Credit: Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic to conduct the first fully crewed flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity

Virgin Galactic later today, July 11, 2021, will conduct the first fully crewed spaceflight of their SpaceShipTwo Unity vehicle. The rocket-powered glider will take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, USA, mated to the carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo. At an altitude of about 14 kilometers, Unity and its passengers and pilots will be detached from the mothership. The craft will then ignite its hybrid rocket engine, accelerating up to 3,500 km/h, and pitching upwards toward space.

Unity fires its engine during a previous flight. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic.

Around 70 s later, the rocket engine will cut off and SpaceShipTwo Unity will coast to its apogee at around 85km in altitude. During this phase of flight, the passengers onboard will experience weightlessness and an incredible view back down to Earth for about four to five minutes. To slow down during descent, the two pilots will initiate the feather configuration, by rotating VSS Unity’s wings by 90 degrees. At 12 kilometers in altitude, the wings will be rotate back to enable SpaceShipTwo to glide back to Spaceport America. The vehicle is expected to safely touch down back on Earth about 15 minutes after the release from WhiteKnightTwo.

Landing of VSS Unity during a previous flight. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic.

Landing of VSS Unity during a previous flight. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic.

During today’s flight, VSS Unity will carry the two pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, as well as the four mission specialists Beth Moses, Colin Bennett, Sirisha Bandla and Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson into space. It will be SpaceShipTwo’s 22nd test flight and the company’s fourth crewed mission.

In the next few weeks after the Unity 22 mission, the company will conduct data reviews and extensive inspection of the spaceplane, to ensure that all systems performed as expected. After two more test flights, Virgin Galactic expects to begin flying space tourists to the edge of space in 2022.


Sources:

https://www.virgingalactic.com/articles/virgin-galactic-announces-first-fully-crewed-spaceflight/

https://pressftp.virgingalactic.com/virgingalactic/press

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