VSS Unity begins integrated vehicle ground testing

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity, when it enters service, will ferry passengers to the edge of space and then return to Earth.

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Virgin Galactic (Mojave, CA, US) reports that its composites-intensive VSS Unity reusable spacecraft will begin integrated vehicle testing in preparation for flight testing. This includes testing the environmental controls within the cabin, the electrical systems, the rudders and elevators, the landing gear, the feather system, the reaction control system (which allows the vehicle to maneuver itself in space), the systems that mate SpaceShipTwo to her carrier aircraft, and everything else.

To the greatest extent possible, Virgin Galactic will test in flight-like environments. This includes the construction of a flight-like test stand that uses tanks, valves, controllers, and structures identical to what exists on the real vehicle. Because SpaceShipTwo fires its motor while the vehicle is both in a horizontal and in a vertical position, Virgin Galactic has two different stands that allow it to test in those two positions.

All told, 72 full-scale SpaceShipTwo motors have been tested throughout the course of the program. Adding in cold flow tests and multiple firings of some motors, there have been nearly 100 firings of the full-scale propulsion system, as well as numerous subscale test firings dating back to the similar motor design for the SpaceShipOne program.

VSS Unity, which will ferry passengers to the edge of space and then return to Earth, is the second craft in the SpaceShipTwo class developed by Virgin Galactic. The first SpaceShipTwo was destroyed during fligh testing on Oct. 31, 2014 when one of the test pilots prematurely depolyed the craft's feathering system. One pilot was killed and the second was injured.

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