SpaceShipTwo demonstrates 'feathered' reentry

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The world’s first commercial spaceship, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, has completed an important test of its reentry ability.

In its third test flight in two weeks, it has demonstrated its unique 'feathered' configuration for the first time.

After a 45 minute climb to 51,500 feet, SpaceShipTwo was released cleanly from the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft, VMS Eve. It established a stable glide profile, says Virgin, before deploying its 'feathered' reentry configuration by rotating the tail section of the vehicle upwards to a 65 degree angle to the fuselage.

It remained in this position for around one minute and 15 seconds whilst descending almost vertically at around 15,500 feet per minute, slowed by the shuttlecock-like drag from the raised tail section.

At around 33,500 feet the pilots reconfigured the spaceship to its normal glide mode and executed a smooth runway touch down, approximately 11 minutes and five seconds after its release from VMS Eve.

"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," says George Whitesides, CEO and president of Virgin Galactic.

"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."

SpaceShipTwo (SS2), named VSS Enterprise, has now flown solo seven times.

"In all test flight programs, after the training, planning and rehearsing, there comes the moment when you have to go up there and fly it for real," says pilot Pete Siebold. "This morning’s flight was a test pilot’s dream."