Richard Branson Launches Back Into the Space Race After Rocket Success

April 8, 2018 Updated: September 28, 2018

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture announced on Thursday, April 5 that its passenger spacecraft, Virgin Space Ship Unity, had successfully completed its first supersonic, rocket-powered flight.

The test came three and a half years after an accident destroyed its sister ship during a test flight over California’s Mojave Desert, killing one pilot.

The company said in a news release the milestone marked the start of the final portion of Unity’s flight test program.

The spaceship, built by Virgin Galactic’s own manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company, is slated to take thrill-seekers, researchers, and commercial customers on short hops into space.

“Delighted to see SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity safely and successfully complete her first manned supersonic, rocket-powered flight. It was a proud moment as Virgin Galactic’s spaceship passed this important milestone to mark the start of its final phase of testing,” said Branson in a release.

“The teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company have done an excellent job through two years of extensive ground and atmospheric testing, and the successful test flight was testament to their hard work and dedication. VSS Unity is the first vehicle built from scratch for Virgin Galactic by The Spaceship Company’s brilliant aerospace engineers and technicians.”

Unity took off attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft at 8:02 a.m. from the Mojave Air and Space Port, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Los Angeles, Virgin said.

At around 46,500ft Unity was released from the carrier aircraft and a hybrid rocket motor powered the spaceship into supersonic flight for the first time. It then jettisoned its remaining oxidizer and glided back to land on the runway.

The two-pilot, six-passenger spaceship is designed to reach altitudes of 62 miles (100 km) above the planet, providing a few minutes of weightlessness and a view of Earth set against the blackness of space.

Nearly 700 people have signed up so far for rides, which cost $250,000 each.


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