Space

Aircraft problem could postpone renewal of SpaceShipTwo test flights

Aircraft problem could postpone renewal of SpaceShipTwo test flights

Virgin Galactic says on May 10 that while it considers it remedied a challenge with its SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane. It aborts a test flight five months past; the renewal of those test flights might be further postponed by a glitch. The glitch is with the plane that contains SpaceShipTwo in the air.

Virgin Galactic expects to restart test flights of SpaceShipTwo in May following rectifying a glitch that canceled the last powered test flight of the vehicle in December 2020. Engineers conclude that electromagnetic interference (EMI) is a cause. This is by a recent flight control computer on the vehicle sparks a “fail-safe abort”. It just starts rotating its hybrid rocket engine, closing down the engine and pushing the vehicle to drift back to a landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Mike Moses is the president of space missions and safety at Virgin Galactic. He says, the firm takes measures in order to decrease the interference. That involves positioning new hardware filters to conceal the interference built by the computer and enhancing shielding on wire channels.

Those explanations are put to the test in the lab and also fit on VSS Unity, the SpaceShipTwo vehicle presently apply for flight tests. “We can see that we have drastically cut down the EMI, on the order of 10 to 20 decibels,” he says, or a cut of more than 90%. “Our evaluations result that we adequately address the EMI concern and that Unity is willing for flight.”

Although Unity might be willing for flight, the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft that holds the plane aloft (VMS Eve), may not be. Moses says that the plane makes three flights from Spaceport America in the past two weeks. After which post-flight assessments show “a possible wear-and-tear problem as necessitating further assessment and analysis.”

Moses, in reply to subsequent questions from experts, did not reveal the precise component of the aircraft. The component that was at the core of the problem. However, explains it as a “family of elements that correlate to exhaustion and long-term pressure” of the airplane. It was not a problem with the number of flights of VMS Eve. Which first flew in 2008 and has got less than 300 flights ever since.

 

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