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Virgin Galactic's Carrier Plane Returns Home to New Mexico Spaceport After Upgrades and Maintenance

Virgin Galactic's carrier plane, VMS Eve, has returned to its home base at Spaceport America in New Mexico after undergoing extensive upgrades and maintenance at California's Mojave Air and Space Port. The aircraft had been in Mojave since October 2021, where it underwent a series of enhancements, including a new launch pylon, upgraded avionics, and mechanical systems, and new horizontal stabilizers to increase Eve's flight rate capability. The recent test flight from Mojave to Spaceport America was carried out to ensure the upgraded vehicle performed as expected, and to move both Eve and Virgin Galactic's six-passenger VSS Unity suborbital spaceliner to New Mexico for further testing and training.

The Role of VMS Eve in Virgin Galactic's Space Program

VMS Eve is a specially designed carrier plane built to carry Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity suborbital spaceliner high into the sky. At an altitude of around 50,000 feet, Eve drops Unity, which then ignites its onboard rocket motor to make its way to space. Both vehicles come back to Earth separately, with each landing on a runway. The two vehicles, which are piloted, have conducted four spaceflights to date, with two from Mojave and two from Spaceport America. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and three other passengers were among the crew members who went to space from the New Mexico site in July 2021, shortly before Virgin Galactic announced that it was suspending spaceflights for a while to focus on maintenance and upgrades for both Eve and Unity.

The Importance of Upgrades and Maintenance for VMS Eve

Virgin Galactic's recent upgrades and maintenance work for VMS Eve were aimed at increasing the flight rate capability of the aircraft. Upgrades included replacing Eve's pylon, which is the point between the carrier plane's twin fuselages where Unity attaches, and improving the avionics and mechanical systems. The recent test flights from Mojave to Spaceport America and back were intended to ensure that the upgraded vehicle performed as expected.

The Next Steps for Virgin Galactic's Space Program

Following the successful test flights, Virgin Galactic plans to carry out more functional check flights, including pilot training, before moving into ground testing. During ground testing, Unity will be mated underneath Eve's giant wing, and the company will test the new pylon, communication and camera systems, and cabin environmental controls, among other things. Once the testing is complete, Eve will fly with Unity attached, and the vehicles will fly to altitude before releasing Unity to perform a solo glide back to land at Spaceport. Finally, a fully crewed rocket-powered flight to space will be carried out for final validation flights to run the vehicles through all final system and operational checks that provide data to finalize models and clear the vehicles for commercial service.

Virgin Galactic's First Commercial Flight

Virgin Galactic's first commercial flight, a research mission for the Italian Air Force, is set to lift off this spring, according to company representatives. The mission will mark a significant milestone for Virgin Galactic, which has been working for years to develop its suborbital space tourism program. The success of the mission could pave the way for a new era of space tourism, allowing people to experience the thrill of spaceflight in a safe and comfortable way. Virgin Galactic's suborbital space tourism program is just the beginning, as the company aims to eventually launch orbital flights and become a leading player in the space industry.

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