VSS Unity, aka SpaceShipTwo, succeeds a similarly named suborbital craft following a fatal test flight in 2014. Built by a Virgin Galactic affiliate known as the SpaceShip Company, the new craft flew “fully under its own control” in a test flight conducted by a pair of Virgin Galactic pilots on Dec. 3, officials said.
Another plane – WhiteKnightTwo – lifted VSS Unity before releasing it for 10 minutes of free flight above the Mojave Desert in California. The entire exercise took 80 minutes, with Virgin chief Richard Branson looking on.
“This glide flight was the first of many,” Virgin said afterwards in a website post. “We have not yet reached the rocket-powered phase of the test flight program. First we need to gather test flight data to confirm our analyses and calculations about how VSS Unity will perform in a wide variety of real-world flight conditions.”
SpaceShipTwo is designed as a reusable, winged craft capable of carrying six passengers and two crewmembers. Its design changes were prompted by the fatal crash of SpaceShipTwo-VSS Enterprise during a test flight. Co-pilot Mike Alsbury was killed in the disaster.