On the 5/3/2011 for the first time, Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane – SpaceShipTwo deployed its twin tail sections designed to allow the craft to gently return to the Earth. The twin tail sections is a unique feature important in reducing the enormous stress inflicted on the craft’s body when returning to earth from space. In the case of SpaceShipTwo the twin tail sections is even more important as the spaceship will be used to ferry passengers to and from space many times in a short period of time – something no space vehicle to date had been required to do.
The test flight Tuesday took place from the Mojave Air and Space Port. SpaceShipTwo was carried to an altitude of about 50,000 feet by a carrier plane (known as WhiteKnightTwo) and dropped to the ground. During the fall back to earth SpaceShipTwo test pilot conducted what is known as feathering – rotating the tail section upward at a 65-degree angle to increase aerodynamic drag and allowing the spaceship to lend more gently.
According to Virgin Galactic the current test flight was SpaceShipTwo’s third in 12 days, “reinforcing the fast turnaround and frequent flight-rate potential of Virgin Galactic’s new vehicles. We have also shown that the unique feathering reentry mechanism, probably the single most important safety innovation within the whole system, works perfectly”.
The first commercial flight of the SpaceShipTwo should take place in about a year according to Virgin Galactic and will be launched from Spaceport America currently under construction in New Mexico.