Virgin Galactic’s new spaceship has completed a successful first glide flight, an essential step to full-scale operation, following the crash of its predecessor two years ago that killed the co-pilot.
The spaceflight company is owned by the British billionaire entrepreneur and airline mogul, Richard Branson.
The new SpaceShipTwo is named VSS Unity. According to a Virgin Galactic statement on Twitter, the craft was hauled up into the skies by the “mother ship”, or carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, operating from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
“VSS Unity has landed. Vehicle and crew are back safe and sound after a successful first glide test flight,” Virgin Galactic tweeted at #SpaceShipTwo.
Another round of flight testing will take place before the spacecraft’s hybrid rocket motor will be fired in flight.
The earlier version of SpaceShipTwo disintegrated over California’s Mojave Desert in October 2014, apparently because the speed brakes were deployed prematurely. The pilot escaped by parachute but the co-pilot died.
Once the operation is proved safe, the eventual goal is to take tourists in parties of six to the edge of space, more than 100 kilometres above Earth, and then embark on three-hour suborbital flights.
Cost of the trip: USD 250,000. Leonardo diCaprio has already signed up.
Written by Peter Needham