Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity suborbital spacecraft took to the skies over the Mojave desert in an unpowered flight test of the ship’s feather re-entry system. Piloted by Mark Stucky and Mike Masucci, the glide test is the fourth independent flight and the eighth total flight of the craft, which is designed to carry paying passengers on brief excursions to the edge of space.
According to Virgin Galactic, the May 1 flight of Unity was part of the company’s flight test program to certify the spacecraft to carry passengers in regular service. Though the craft is designed to reach supersonic speeds using a hybrid liquid/solid rocket engine, this glide flight was conducted without rocket power as the Unity was dropped from the mothership WhiteKnightTwo carrying pilots Nicola Pecile and CJ Sturckow and flight test engineer Dustin Mosher.
As part of the test, Unity deployed its “feather” re-entry system that is designed to return the craft safely to Earth after touching space.