Written by The Business Journal Staff
(AP) — Virgin Galactic’s new spaceship successfully completed its first free flight with a glide test over the Mojave Desert, the company said.
The craft was carried aloft Saturday morning by its mothership, released at an altitude of 50,000 feet and, with pilots Mark Stuck and Dave Mackay in the cockpit, glided for 10 minutes to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port.
The spaceship, named Unity, had previously been flown on captive-carry flights in which it remained attached to the wing of the mothership, a specially designed jet name WhiteKnightTwo.
Virgin Galactic said there will be many glide flights to confirm how it performs in real-world conditions before testing proceeds to rocket-powered flights.
The company said on its website that flight data and information from the pilots indicated it 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.”
The craft is the second developed under Virgin Galactic’s plan for a fleet of ships that will carry passengers on thrill rides to space and back.
Virgin Galactic’s first spaceship broke apart in 2014 during its fourth rocket-powered test flight when the co-pilot prematurely unlocked a system used for slowing the vehicle during re-entry into the atmosphere. The co-pilot was killed, and the pilot survived.
Virgin Galactic is owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments of Abu Dhabi.
Branson, who was on hand at Mojave to watch Unity, noted that it marked the first free flight of a spaceship built entirely by the company’s manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company.
The craft is 60 feet long, has a wingspan of 42 feet and is designed to carry six passengers in addition to the two-person crew.
The design is called SpaceShipTwo, following the concept of SpaceShipOne, which flew into space three times in 2004 and won the $10 million Ansari X Prize.