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Virgin Galactic Reaches Two New Milestones, Reflects on an Extraordinary Year

In December, Virgin Galactic reached two major milestones including the placement of the main oxidizer tank and the attachment of the feather wing structure on their next spaceship. Also, Sir Richard Branson reflects on the year's extraordinary progress in a moving video.

The Spaceship Company Team Celebrates Main Oxidizer Tank Installation - Courtesy Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is reaching one milestone after another and excitement continues to build as the company prepares to launch civilian astronauts into space. On December 1st, the company announced that the Main Oxidizer Tank (MOT) for the company’s next spaceship has been placed in the fuselage. The MOT forms part of the spaceship’s fuselage and holds the oxidizer for the rocket motor. Virgin Galactic uses a hybrid solid fuel and liquid oxidizer that is currently the most powerful motor for crewed flight. In the December 1st announcement, The Spaceship Company’s Chief Engineer – Propulsion, Jose Stevens said,

“On earth, most fuel burns using a plentiful supply of oxygen found in the atmosphere, but at very high altitudes and in space, the lack of oxygen means we have to bring an oxidizer along with us to allow the rocket motor fuel to burn and generate the required thrust.”

In VSS Unity’s most recent flight, the rocket motor burned for 60 seconds, propelling the vehicle into space at almost triple the speed of sound. Virgin Galactic’s fleet of spaceships are developed and manufactured by their production division, The Spaceship Company, based in Mojave, California. VSS Unity (the first Spaceship Two) continues its rigorous flight test program at Virgin Galactic’s New Mexico operations center, while the next two vehicles are being built side-by-side.

The Spaceship Company Team Celebrates Feather Structure Attachment - Courtesy Virgin Galactic

Reaching another major milestone on December 15, 2019, Virgin Galactic announced that the feather wing structure had been attached to the next spaceship. In the company announcement, Virgin Galactic’s CEO, George Whitesides said,

“Completing this milestone is an important moment in the build of our next spaceship and signals that our fleet is starting to take shape. We have specifically designed our space system with a fundamental focus on safety, customer experience and reusability and the feather mechanism is key to enabling how we do this.”

SpaceshipTwo’s unique ‘feather system’ unites two major components of the vehicle’s airframe and allows the vehicle to change shape in flight. The unique capability of the system ensures a safe aerodynamically controlled re-entry. After the rocket burn has been completed, the Virgin Galactic pilots extend SpaceshipTwo’s feather upward, resulting in a 60-degree upward rotation of the aft wing and tail booms. This configuration creates high drag, slowing the spaceship down for re-entry, while spreading the thermal loads across the vehicle’s surfaces. After re-entry, the feather is returned to its original position allowing the pilots to smoothly glide the vehicle down to a runway at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The marrying of the feather system to the airframe was the last milestone before the spaceship will rest on its own wheels.

Source: Virgin Galactic


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