A significant moment for the company and its sister manufacturing organisation, The Spaceship Company, this marks the first test since a fatal accident in 2014, in which a pilot was killed and the SS2 being tested was destroyed.
A reusable space plane designed to carry two pilots and up to six passengers (or research payloads) into suborbital space, the SS2 is Virgin Galactic’s means for “transforming access to space,” for paying customers and researchers, according to the company’s vision statement.
“Thanks to their innovative design, our vehicles are built to dramatically increase the frequency and safety of space flight. Our human spaceflight business aims to fly more people to space in its first few years of service than have been there through all of history.”
.@virgingalactic back on track. Successful powered flight, Mach 1.6. Data review to come, then on to the next flight. Space feels tantalisingly close now.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) April 5, 2018
VSS Unity took off at 8:02am over Mojave with pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Dave Mackay in the cockpit, attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, piloted by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile. After a clean release from Eve, Unity headed on up to 84,271ft, before starting the return trip.
Virgin Galactic has released the first images of the test flight, which are undeniably mind-blowing.
“The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing,” read Virgin Galactic’s post-flight write-up. “It also marks a key moment for the test flight program, entering now the exciting phase of powered flight and the expansion to full duration rocket burns. While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead.”
According to Virgin Galactic, passengers float in zero gravity for several minutes during the flight, and “experience astounding views of Earth from the black sky of space,” from approximately 62 miles (100 kilometres) above Earth. Passengers will prepare for three days at New Mexico’s Spaceport America prior to the flight, and the whole thing will be filmed for each “astronaut” as a memento.
How much? Oh, just a cheeky $250,000 per ticket. Virgin Galactic’s Unity test flight video footage makes us unbelievably tempted to take out a loan: