Virgin Galactic chalks up successful supersonic test flight

Virgin Galactic chalks up successful supersonic test flight

Thursday's flight was the first powered test flight by the VSS Unity spaceship, built after the crash of Virgin Galactic's first SpaceShipTwo vehicle, which killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injured lead pilot Peter Siebold after an in-flight breakup 10 miles above California's Mojave Desert on October 31, 2014.

Early Thursday morning, the company's SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity suborbital vehicle was launched mid-flight by White Knight Two, a larger plane.

At about 8 a.m. local time, the VMS Eve carrier plane took off from Mojave, Calif., carrying SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity before releasing it 14,000 metres above ground, Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

The rocket ship accelerated past the speed of sound for just a moment before slowing down and turning around for a glide back home.

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"Back on track. Space feels tantalisingly close now", Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson tweeted.

"The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing", Virgin Galactic said.

Virgin Galactic has sold more than 600 tickets for future suborbital trips to the edge of space.

The tail booms were rotated back in line with Unity's fuselage at an altitude of about 50,000 feet and from there, Stucky and Mackay flew a normal gliding approach to a runway landing.

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Following the fatal 2014 test flight accident of another ship, the VSS Enterprise, the Unity has a unique safety feature for safe re-entry into the atmosphere: the ability to maneuver its tail booms into a "feathered" configuration. Images are courtesy of Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic has released the first images of the test flight, which are undeniably mind-blowing.

Over 700 guests, including celebrities Katy Perry and Brad Pitt, have already reserved a seat on one of Virgin Galactic's first flights for a cost of $250,000 (£200,000) a seat. Successful powered flight, Mach 1.6.

The flight was also significant for Virgin Galactic's Mojave based, sister manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company.

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Space Florida congratulated Richard Branson and the Virgin Galactic team on their return to flight, the first in almost four years, from the Mojave Air and Space Port today. While the company celebrates that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead.

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