The flight proved the ability of the VSS Unity to glide back to earth from the captive carry plane WhiteKnightTwo.
While the entire flight lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes, VSS Unity only flew under its own control for 10 minutes. This was the fifth flight of the VSS Unity, and the first time that a vehicle built for Virgin Galactic by its sister group The Spaceship Company has flown under its own control. It reached Mach 0.6 during the glide, which dropped it from 50,000 feet to a runway in the Mojave Desert in California.
VSS Unity’s own rockets haven’t been tested yet. That will happen at some time in the future, although Virgin Galactic hasn’t specified exactly when. During commercial flights, VSS Unity or its sibling SpaceShipTwo vehicles will be carried to 50,000 feet by the mothership, then ascend on their own power to the internationally-acknowledged edge of space, at about 60 miles above the surface of the Earth.
“An initial look at the data as well as feedback from our two pilots indicate that today’s flight went extremely well, but we’ll take the time to properly and thoroughly analyze the vehicle’s performance before clearing the vehicle for our next test,” Virgin Galactic wrote in a news post.
The VSS Unity was piloted by Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay, with flight test engineer Dustin Mosher and pilots Mike Masucci and Todd Ericsson standing by in WhiteKnightTwo.
Along with its goal of commercializing flights to the edge of the atmosphere, Virgin Galactic says that they also believe that “life on Earth will be made better by the exploration of space.”
VSS Unity was announced to the public in February.
In November 2014, a SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight, killing Michael Alsbury, the co-pilot. Federal investigators said that the “feathering” system on the tail was activated too early during descent.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense