It wasn’t so long ago that we were celebrating Virgin Galactic’s return to the skies after a two-year hiatus. And now, just three months later, the company has already completed its second glide flight. In fact, the company has performed two flights in as many weeks, with the first VSS Unity (or SpaceShipTwo) flying independently for 10 minutes on December 3. On December 22, the suborbital spaceplane made its second successful free flight, ending Virgin Galactic’s 2016 on a decidedly positive note.
As per SpaceNews, VSS Unity departed from Mojave Air and Space Port in California around 4:20 p.m. ET. Upon takeoff, it was attached to its carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo, but was released about 40 minutes later, and glided its way back to a successful runway landing in Mojave. “Well done to the pilots and the whole crew. Great way to end the year!” tweeted George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic’s CEO.
The two 2016 test flights will set the stage for an ambitious 2017, in which Virgin Galactic will likely need to conduct several more such flights. Back in October, company president Mike Moses noted that the company would continue testing until it had completed all its test objectives, which could be done in approximately 10 flights.
“We’ll start slow,” Moses said in October of these yet-to-occur flights. At first, the SpaceShipTwo will only be accelerated to Mach 1 (it hasn’t hit that first sound barrier yet). “Once that’s under our belts, we’ll punch through to full duration, expand the envelope, and look at all the off-nominal conditions that can occur,” Moses concluded.
It’s yet to be determined when Virgin Galactic’s glider could begin commercial flights, but that certainly hasn’t stopped space enthusiasts from paying for a ticket beyond Earth’s atmosphere once SpaceShipTwo is ready to go. In fact, Virgin Galactic says, it has about 700 customers who have already signed up to be passengers. Who knows? Maybe you’ll want to join them.