SS2/WK2 takeoff
Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo, with SpaceShipTwo attached, takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California Nov. 1 on what was to be the first glide flight of the vehicle. Credit: Virgin Galactic

WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic called off the first planned glide flight test of its second SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft Nov. 1 because of high winds in the skies above its California test site.

The company had hoped to release the spaceplane, named VSS Unity, from its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft during a flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The company warned in a series of tweets before and after takeoff that high winds might prevent them from releasing SpaceShipTwo in flight for a glide test.

“Crosswinds were high & gusty here in Mojave–which scrubbed the glide portion of today’s flight,” the company tweeted after calling off the glide test. “Still, valuable data gathered.” WhiteKnightTwo, with SpaceShipTwo still attached, landed back in Mojave on what was instead the second “captive carry” flight of the vehicle, after an initial test flight in September.

Virgin Galactic did not formally announce the test flight in advance, but a company test pilot, CJ Sturckow, disclosed the planned flight during a presentation at The Explorers Club in New York Oct. 29. “It’s ready to fly, and I’m really looking forward to seeing that,” he said.

Virgin Galactic said it would reschedule the glide flight “soon” but was not more specific about the schedule.

The flight, when it does take place, will be the first in a series to test the flying characteristics of the vehicle before beginning powered test flights with SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid rocket motor. The company, in a statement issued before the Nov. 1 test, said the tests will examine how it glides in varying conditions, such as whether or not it is carrying a full load of payload and propellant.

“This testing of the ‘corners of the box’ is designed to demonstrate how VSS Unity will perform as it returns from space, after the feather system is retracted and the vehicle becomes a glider and lands on the runway like an airplane,” the company stated.

The company does not have a set number of glide flights planned before beginning powered flights. “We will fly as many flights as we need to in order to achieve all these objectives,” the company said.

“There’s 10 glide flights’ worth of targets,” said Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, in an October interview. “We could do those in 8 flights, or might take 15, but we’re not going into the next phase before we clear those.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...