Beyond making further evaluation of the powered airframe configuration, the pilots also tested the nitrous loading and venting system while SpaceShipTwo was still on the pylon where it attaches to WhiteKnightTwo, the four-engine aircraft that will carry the ship skyward. Nitrous oxide is used as the oxidizer for SpaceShipTwo’s solid fuel rocket engine and this first test of the system is a major step on the way to igniting the rocket for powered flight. The pilots also engaged the “feather” system during the most recent flight, which effectively folds the aircraft allowing it to slow down during reentry from suborbital space.
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Wednesday’s nine-minute glide flight was the 24th made by Virgin Galactic since 2010 and the second time it has flown with the airframe and rocket engine configured as it will be for upcoming powered flights. Virgin made the test flight at Mojave Air and Space Port in southern California, which is home to Scaled Composites, the company helping Branson’s dream of suborbital adventures take flight.
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