Virgin Galactic’s new spaceship climbed at supersonic speed over California’s Mojave Desert on Thursday in the company’s first powered flight since the fatal crash of its original rocketship in 2014.
The flight of VSS Unity was a major step forward, said the company, which plans to carry tourists on suborbital hops into the lower reaches of space where they can see the Earth far below and the stars beyond.
Virgin Galactic said the milestone marked the start of the final portion of Unity’s flight test program, which began after a 2014 test-flight crash of its predecessor, VSS Enterprise, that killed one of its two pilots and set back the project.
“Back on track ... Space feels tantalisingly close now,” Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson tweeted.
In previous test flights, Unity either remained attached to Virgin Mother Ship Eve, the specially designed jet that carries it aloft, or was released to glide back to the ground without lighting its engine.