Virgin Galactic's new space ship during its first glide flight

Virgin Galactic’s new spaceship completes first glide flight

Image credit: Reuters

Virgin Galactic’s new spaceship VSS Unity has completed its first free-glide flight, a major step towards the company’s space tourism plans, which suffered a major setback two years ago when the first version of the vessel crashed killing a co-pilot.

During the test flight, which took place on Saturday above the company’s base in California’s Mojave Desert, VSS Unity was carried up to the altitude of 15km by mothership WhiteKnightTwo and subsequently released to glide back on its own.

During the ten minute flight the spaceship, first unveiled in February this year, was piloted by Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay.

Virgin Galactic said VSS Unity only flew at about Mach 0.6 during the test and admitted it will take some time for it to commence rocket-powered testing.

Ground teams were collecting data throughout the glide as well as during the over an hour-long climb of the spaceship when carried by WhiteKnightTwo.

“An initial look at the data as well as feedback from our two pilots indicate that today’s flight went extremely well, but we’ll take the time to properly and thoroughly analyse the vehicle’s performance before clearing the vehicle for our next test,” said Virgin Galactic.

“We’re looking forward to getting back into the skies as soon as the engineers say we are ready to do so.”

Previously, VSS Unity carried out four captive carry flights.

Virgin Galactic suffered a major setback in October 2014 when the first version of Space Ship Two broke apart mid-flight after an accidental release of a braking system. Co-pilot Michael Alsbury died in the accident while co-pilot Peter Siebold suffered serious injuries.

Virgin Galactic has already sold more than 600 tickets for $250,000 to take tourists to the edge of space.

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