Virgin Galactic just marked a new chapter in the spaceplane’s journey toward commercial spaceflight. Its VSS Unity, better known as new SpaceShipTwo has successfully completed its first glide test flight on Friday, two years after a deadly crash of its predecessor.
Dropped from its carrier plane, WhiteKnightTwo, VSS Unity flew for 10 minutes during the glide flight and successfully landed at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Albeit, it didn’t travel faster than Mach 0.6, it was helpful enough to get a healthy amount of data illustrating how Unity acts in real life.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) December 3, 2016
Company’s first SpaceShipTwo experienced a failure mid-flight two years ago, killing the pilot and injuring the co-pilot. Earlier this year, Virgin Galactic unveiled the new SpaceShipTwo and got approval to start test flight from the Federal Aviation Administration back in August. The test flight was the fifth time that the WhiteKnightTwo and the VSS Unity have flown together, but it was the first time that the Unity flew by itself.
Its founder Richard Branson looked quite happy with the result, but the company still has a bit of testing to do before the spaceplane is ready for the primetime.
“This glide flight was the first of many. We have not yet reached the rocket powered phase of the test flight program—first we need to gather test flight data to confirm our analyses and calculations about how VSS Unity will perform in a wide variety of real-world flight conditions,” the company says in a blog post.
Since the accident of its predecessor, Virgin Galactic worked to fix the problems that included design and pilot errors, which led towards the breakup of the aircraft.