Virgin Galactic has successfully performed a second test flight of its SpaceShipTwo Unity spacecraft from Spaceport America. The company aims to get ahead of the space tourism curve by offering suborbital flights which will take passengers to the edge of space, and this latest test flight brings it one step closer to making that a reality.
The company completed its first test flight from Spaceport America last month, practicing starting trips from the same location that will be used by paying passengers. The spaceport is located in Sierra County, New Mexico, and was created specifically for use by commercial entities, allowing the launch of spacecraft that take off either vertically or horizontally.
For this test flight, SpaceShipTwo Unity was piloted by Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky and Michael “Sooch” Masucci, both of whom have previously piloted the craft, and performed a glide flight. This is where the craft was taken into the air by a carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, and released at an altitude of 51,000 feet.
SpaceShipTwo Unity then glided through the atmosphere, reaching a speed of Mach 0.85, and performed a series of maneuvers that allowed the collection of performance data before the Unity landed on a runway back at Spaceport America.
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company said: “I am thrilled with the team’s hard work to complete today’s test flight successfully. It was an important test that, pending data review, means we can now start preparing the vehicles for powered flight. Our focus for this year remains unchanged on ensuring the vehicles and our operations are prepared for long-term, regular commercial spaceflight service.”
The company has said its next steps are to analyze the data from this test flight and then perform a powered test flight of the craft.
Virgin Galactic has an interest in going beyond suborbital flights in the future as well. Last week, the company announced it is entering a partnership with NASA to fly space tourists to the International Space Station in the future.
These trips will require the use of a different spacecraft than the SpaceShipTwo, which is not capable of orbital flight, but the company has not yet announced its plans for which vehicle it will use to carry passengers into orbit.
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