Virgin Galactic took another step toward beginning full commercial spaceflight operations with its latest test flight. The test was just 54 days after its last launch went supersonic…
The space tourism company founded by Richard Branson completed the second rocket-powered flight of its Unity spacecraft…
launching and landing from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert.
Virgin Galactic said in a tweet that the company hoped to test a critical system for commercial flights.
Today’s flight is planned to be a partial duration rocket burn that will test a rearward center of gravity closer to the commercial configuration
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) May 29, 2018
Rapid reuse is a key part of Virgin Galactic’s plan, as it has over 700 astronauts-to-be signed on to launch, with tickets priced at $250,000 per flight.
For the test, Unity was lifted into the air by the jet-powered mothership Eve. The carrier aircraft then released the spacecraft from under its wing and then Unity’s rocket motor roared the life. Piloted by a two-member crew of Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay, Unity screamed into a steep climb as the engine burned for 31 seconds, pushing Unity past the speed of sound to Mach 1.9.
This test flight bested April’s in altitude, with Unity hitting the top of its climb at 114,500 feet. The first test reached 84,271 feet at its peak.
This was the sixth powered test flight of the SpaceShipTwo design, and the second since the fatal crash of the Spaceship Enterprise on Oct. 31, 2014. Unity underwent extensive engine testing and seven glide tests before Virgin Galactic said it was ready for a powered test flight.
Branson is neck and neck with fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos in the race to create and lead the space tourism industry. Bezos has been pouring nearly $1 billion a year from his Amazon holdings into rocket-builder Blue Origin in the pursuit of reaching zero gravity conditions.
Blue Origin is in the final stages of testing its New Shepard rocket, most recently launching its human-carrying capsule to 322,405 feet in an eighth successful flight on April 29. Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith told CNBC on April 18 that he hopes his company will be launching tourists to space on New Shepard this year.