Published: Sat, April 07, 2018
Sports | By Toni Houston

Virgin Galactic tests passenger rocket ship, 3 years after fatal accident

Virgin Galactic tests passenger rocket ship, 3 years after fatal accident

Images are courtesy of Virgin Galactic.

Sir Richard Branson has said space is "tantalisingly close" for the entrepreneur, after Virgin Galactic's successful test of its new space tourism rocket yesterday.

Created to ferry paying space tourists and research payloads to edge of space, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo vehicle has been in development more than a decade. They were justifiably proud today to be a part of this compelling demonstration of their capabilities in action.

The VSS Unity is the first ship built from the ground up by Virgin Galactic's sister company, The Spaceship Company. The mated vehicles climbed to a launch altitude of around 46,500ft over the Sierra Nevada Mountains before Eve executed a clean release of Unity. After a few seconds, Unity's rocket motor was brought to life and the pilots aimed the spaceship upwards into an 80 degree climb, accelerating to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn.

While the space plane has been undergoing other tests and has completed glide flights in recent months, this is the first time it has utilized its rocket motors after the fatal crash of 2014.

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The pilots ultimately took Unity up to 84,271ft before the downhill return started. The pilots raised the vehicle's twin tail booms to an angle of 60 degrees in a maneuver known as "feathering", which helped ease the stresses experienced while plunging back into the thick lower atmosphere. The spaceship, dubbed VSS Unity by the late British physicist Stephen Hawking during a 2016 ceremony, has now undergone 12 total flight tests.

Branson couldn't contain his excitement on twitter following the test flight: "Data review to come, then on to the next flight". The company can now proceed with new phases, including full-duration rocket burns and powered flight. "While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead", the company stated in a release issued after the flight.

Virgin Galactic has sold more than 600 tickets for future suborbital trips to the edge of space.

The company says the spacecraft achieved supersonic speed before the pilots shut down the engine and it glided back to Mojave Air & Space Port. The spaceship reached 25,000 m before making a smooth runway landing, the company said.

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