Virgin Galactic’s VMS Eve carrier aircraft, used to launch suborbital tourist ships, made its first flight in more than a year on February 15, bringing the company closer to resuming commercial service. The aircraft, formerly known as WhiteKnightTwo, set off on a flight of more than 2.5 hours from the Mojave Aerospace Port in California. The flight was completed successfully, an altitude of 12,650 meters was reached.
Virgin Galactic has overhauled the VMS Eve, including replacing the central pylon from which SpaceShipTwo launches. The company did not release details of the flight, but did release an interview with Kelly Latimer, senior director of flight testing. She said the “flight is for functional testing” of the new aircraft, including testing the new launch pylon in low temperatures at high altitude.
“This is standard practice in the aviation industry and is always a key step after aircraft maintenance or modification,” Kelly commented on the test flight. “We check everything on the ground, and then again in flight, during various maneuvers at different altitudes and temperatures, especially at extremely low temperatures.”
Virgin Galactic did not say if additional test flights of the aircraft are planned in Mojave. The aircraft was built by Scaled Composites in Mojave for Virgin Galactic and unveiled in 2008. He was known as WhiteKnightTwo for most of his career, though Virgin Galactic now refers to him as VMS Eve.
After a test flight, VMS Eve will return to Spaceport America. It will be reunited with VSS Unity, SpaceShipTwo’s spaceplane, to begin a series of test flights that will include unpowered gliding flight and powered suborbital flight with company personnel on board. They will be the first for Unity since a suborbital flight in July 2021, which included company founder Richard Branson and several other Virgin Galactic employees.
This will be followed by a research flight for the Italian Air Force, in accordance with a contract signed back in 2019. In January, the company said it was staying on schedule and planning to begin commercial flights in the second quarter. Shares of Virgin Galactic rose 13.6% in trading on February 15th. On February 28, the company intends to publish financial results for the fourth quarter and for 2022.
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