SpaceShipTwo Fires Its Rocket to Resume Powered Test Flights

Dean Simpson
April 7, 2018

If all goes well, commercial operations could begin soon - perhaps before the end of the year, Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson has said.

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. About an hour after liftoff, Virgin Galactic tweeted that VSS Unity separated cleanly from the larger plane and that its two pilots later propelled the spaceship upward by igniting its rocket motor for a "planned partial duration burn".


The Unity spacecraft's successful launch, which reached supersonic heights, and landing marks a milestone in the company's endeavor to send tourists to space.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said: "On rocket shutdown, Unity continued an upwards coast to an apogee of 84,271 feet before readying for the downhill return". Successful powered flight, Mach 1.6. The carrier jet, piloted by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile, climbed to an altitude of around 46,500 feet (about 14,200 meters) over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


At around 50,000 feet, the pilots lowered the tail booms back into position. The Enterprise accident occurred when the co-pilot prematurely unlocked the "feathers" and the ship broke apart. The agency later faulted that spaceship's builder, Scaled Composites, saying the design should have protected against human error. Images are courtesy of Virgin Galactic. Unity, which "incorporates the additional safety mechanisms adopted after the 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight accident", according to a press release, is much heavier and is not created to reach quite those heights.

Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch.


The company said in a statement: "The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing. While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead". 'Another great test flight, another step closer to being NMReady'. "Space feels tantalisingly close now".

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