The first private company to successfully launch a ship into space, and return it safely to Earth, continues to make headlines this month. With the successful completion of the first ‘feathered’ flight test, a test conducted with the VSS Enterprise, Virgin has shown us that not only can they get a spacecraft into the upper atmosphere, an area we know as ‘space’, but that they also have a simplistic method of turning the craft into a re-entry vehicle that is capable of bringing its passengers home.
The test doesn’t last very long, but spectators can clearly see why it was so important to test this feature of the Enterprise. In the video, viewers can watch as the Enterprise drops away from its carrier vehicle, White Knight Two. Once clear of the other plane, the Enterprise then extends ‘the feather’ and viewers can see as the wings of the craft fold up into what is called a ‘shuttlecock’ position, allowing the craft to fall freely without tumbling or losing stability.
As the craft nears the ground, the wings are then pinned back into place, where they support ‘glider mode’. The ship then returns to its landing strip in the California Mojave Desert.
Though flight tests are scheduled to continue throughout this year and next, hundreds of people have already signed up and paid deposits of $200,000 to secure their chance at being one of the first ‘space tourists’ to fly. This money buys an experience that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else for a long time; a short trip to over sixty-two miles above the planet and a few minutes of weightlessness.
You can view the demonstration and test here.