Virgin Galactic is now officially back in the game after the successful test flight of the VSS Unity spaceship.
On Thursday, the Richard Branson-owned Virgin Galactic conducted the first powered test flight of the VSS Unity spaceship, popularly known as the SpaceShipTwo. The test was the first since the October 2014 fatal accident that tore apart the original SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, and killed one of the pilots.
The mothership reportedly took off at around 8 AM Pacific Time and flew to about 46,500 feet. In the one-minute video released by the company, the space plane was shown as it was dropped from the mothership airplane that carried it into the skies just above the Mojave Desert.
The ship fired its rocket for 30 seconds and hit a top speed of Mach 1.87 (around 1,500 miles per hour) as it zoomed higher, reaching a maximum altitude of 84,000 feet. The pilots then deployed the feather system, which works like a badminton birdie tossed into the air, as it glided back down to Earth.
At around 50,000 feet, the pilots lowered the tail booms back into position. The final seconds of the video showed the ship rolling down the runway after a successful landing.
The development of the VSS Unity spaceship is part of Branson’s ambitious dream to fly paying tourists into space and let them enjoy the view of the Earth. Following the test flight, Branson declared on a tweet that Virgin Galactic is “back on track.”
.@virgingalactic back on track. Successful powered flight, Mach 1.6. Data review to come, then on to the next flight. Space feels tantalisingly close now.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) April 5, 2018
With all the upgrades and safety mechanisms added to the VSS Unity spaceship, it is considered more robust and heavier than its predecessor, the VSS Enterprise. Because of this, Unity can only reach a maximum altitude of 80 km.
The internationally recognized space boundary, the Karman line, is at 100 km. This means that the Unity will not technically be flying into space. Insread, it will reach the altitude necessary to see the curvature of Earth.