Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has once again sent a spaceship aloft. The new SpaceShipTwo craft, named VSS Unity, fired its rocket engine on Thursday for a limited burn following a drop-launch from its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo.
Virgin Galactic plans to fly paying space tourists into the microgravity environment of space to enjoy stunning views of the Earth, reusing the same spacecraft again and again. Thursday’s flight is the first for Virgin Galactic following the 2014 fatal crash of the original SpaceShipOne from over California’s Mojave Desert that claimed the life of one of the pilots aboard.
The mothership took off about 8 a.m. PT and climbed to just over 46,000 flew near California's Sierra Nevada Mountains before releasing the Unity. After a brief free fall, Unity's rocket motor ignited for a 30-second burn that sent the spaceship climbing to 84,000 feet and a top speed of Mach 1.87. Virgin Galactic said the ship will eventually climb to roughly 327,000 feet above the earth’s surface at the edge of space.
Virgin Galactic said this flight represents a “key moment in the test program,” gathering valuable data on flight, rocket motor and aircraft performance. The next phase of testing includes expanding the rocket engine to a full power run of longer duration.
No word yet on when the first commercial flight will occur, but the company has been selling tickets for $250,000 each.