SpaceShipTwo Makes First Solo Flight Since 2014 Accident

Virgin Galactic’s improved spacecraft completes successful unpowered test glide over the Mojave Desert.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert on Saturday.Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is back in the air and once again making progress toward commercial space travel.

Richard Branson's spaceflight company test flew the new and improved suborbital vehicle over the Mojave Desert on Saturday. It was the first free flight since a 2014 fatal accident in a similar spacecraft.

The VSS Unity flew solo for 10 minutes before landing safely on the ground. It was detached from its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, at an altitude of 50,000 feet. Unity is still in its glide testing phase, so it did not fly under its own power. It reached a maximum speed of about Mach 0.6.

Virgin Galactic plans to test fly the spacecraft under its own power, of course, with the ultimate goal of flight beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Branson seems optimistic about the future of commercial space travel.

“Behind the innovation of our beautiful spaceship is the dedicated and hardworking people who have devoted years of their lives to build not one spaceship but to build and operate a commercial spaceline,” Branson wrote in a blog post after Saturday’s flight. “Their everyday work is paving the way for everyday citizens to one day experience the thrills of SpaceShipTwo and views of our home planet from space.”

Watch a video of SpaceShipTwo’s glide below.