A parallel Worlds

Sunday May 29 2011 / Science & Technology

Re-entry into the atmosphere has been one of the biggest challenges of space flight. Virgin Galactic uses an innovative system called "feathering" in which the wings on the craft rotate 90 degrees upward to achieve more aerodynamic drag on reentry.

Early on Wednesday 4th May 2011, in the skies above Mojave Air and Spaceport CA, SpaceShipTwo, the world’s first commercial spaceship, demonstrated its unique reentry ‘feather’ configuration for the first time. This test flight, the third in less than two weeks, marks another major milestone on the path to powered test flights and commercial operations.

"Now we now have an entry vehicle – now we can come back from space,”
said Matt Stiemetze, Program Manager at Scaled Composites

SpaceShipTwo went airborne attached to WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft, and after a 45 minute climb to 17,000m/51,500', SS2 was released from VMS Eve and established a stable glide profile before deploying.

The feathering configuration is achieved by rotating the tail section of the vehicle upwards to a 65 degree angle to the fuselage. During the test flight, it remained in this configuration with the vehicle’s body at a level pitch for approximately 1 minute and 15 seconds while descending, almost vertically, at around 5,000m/15,500 ' per minute, slowed by the powerful shuttlecock-like drag created by the raised tail section. At around 11,000m/33,500' the pilots reconfigured the spaceship to its normal glide mode and executed a smooth runway touchdown, approximately 11 minutes and 5 seconds after its release from VMS Eve.

SpaceShipTwo (SS2), named VSS Enterprise, has now flown solo seven times since its public roll-out in December 2009 and since the completion of its ground and captive -carry test program.

George Whitesides, CEO and President of Virgin Galactic, said: “This morning’s spectacular flight by VSS Enterprise was its third in 12 days, reinforcing the fast turnaround and frequent flight-rate potential of Virgin Galactic’s new vehicles. We have also shown this morning that the unique feathering re-entry mechanism, probably the single most important safety innovation within the whole system, works perfectly. This is yet another important milestone successfully passed for Virgin Galactic, and brings us ever closer to the start of commercial operations. Credit is due to the whole Scaled team, whose meticulous planning and great skill are changing the course of history.
For more information, please visit www.virgingalactic.com.You can even book your flight into space online at at www.virgingalactic.com/booking/

Suggested by
Marc-André Deschoux