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Virgin Galactic celebrates another major landmark

Feathered mode - as explained by Virgin Galactic
Feathered mode - as explained by Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic's space tourism service is another giant leap closer, with the VSS Enterprise landing safely following a successful flight in 'feathered' mode.

Feathered mode is a term used to describe the position of the spaceship's tail – with a badminton shuttlecock the inspiration for a 'radical' safety feature which will be used on Virgin Galactic's ships.

"VSS Enterprise has landed safely after a successful first flight in "feathered" mode. A major milestone for Virgin Galactic." tweeted Virgin Galactic.

Dangerous re-entry

Feathered mode is used when the spaceship comes back into the atmosphere from the vacuum of space, a particularly dangerous part of the entire flight.

"Burt Rutan was determined to find a failsafe solution which remained true to Scaled Composite's philosophy of safety through simplicity," explains Virgin Media.

"His inspiration for what is known as the feathered re-entry was the humble shuttlecock, which like SpaceShipTwo relies on aerodynamic design and laws of physics to control speed and altitude."

Essentially the tail position is adjusted which creates a high drag as the spaceship descends through then upper atmosphere.

Virgin describes the mode as highly stable – and states that feather mode allows for a 'hands free' re-entry capability.

Significantly, it is described by the Branson company as a 'major milestone' and that means we are even closer to being able to buy a ticket to ride in space.