SpaceShipTwo Fires Its Rocket to Resume Powered Test Flights

Virgin Galactic conducts first rocket-powered test since 2014 crash

Virgin Galactic has announced the successful completion of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity mission, reporting a safe landing of its first supersonic, rocket-powered flight.

Virgin Galactic's sister manufacturing company, The Spaceship Company, built the VSS Unity from scratch for Virgin Galactic.

That's what made today's flight test at California's Mojave Air and Space Port special: After carrying the plane and its two pilots to an altitude of about 46,500 feet, Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two mothership, known as VMS Eve, released Unity from its underbelly.

The rocket ship accelerated past the speed of sound for just a moment before slowing down and turning around for a glide back home.

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard tweeted that "Space feels tantalisingly close now".

VSS Unity fired its rocket engine for 30 seconds yesterday, reaching a maximum altitude of 84,271 feet (25,686 meters) - that's almost 16 miles (25 kilometers) - and a top speed of Mach 1.87, Virgin Galactic representatives said.

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The flight generated "valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance", which Virgin Galactic's engineers are now studying. At over 320,000 feet - 100kms or 62 miles - a flight is considered to have reached outer space even if it does not make a complete orbit.

Virgin Galactic said Thursday's landmark marked the beginning of final part of Unity's flight evaluation program, which began following a 2014 test-flight crash of its own predecessor, VSS company, which killed one of its two pilots and also place the undertaking.

In so doing they rode Unity through the transonic range and into supersonic flight - for the first time. The company has not revealed how many more test flights are planned, or when tourist flights are likely to begin.

The craft christened VSS Unity has taken flight a dozen times since its debut in February 2016, but the previous 11 tests didn't involve lighting up the plane's hybrid rocket motor. Successful powered flight, Mach 1.6. "While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead", the company stated in a release issued after the flight.

Virgin Galactic's craft is created to carry a pair of pilots and up to six passengers who will eventually be able to pony up $250,000 for a trip into space.

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