Virgin Galactic took to the skies today for the first test of its rocket-powered spacecraft in over three years. The SpaceShipTwo launch platform deployed the VSS Unity at a set altitude where the space craft will fire its engines for as long as 30 seconds bringing the craft to 1 1/2 the speed of sound. This was the first powered test of the Unity since the SpaceShipTwo Enterprise broke up during a test flight in late 2014.
After the accident Richard Branson’s space program reworked a lot of components but as of late ramped up testing including releasing the Unity for glide testing.
For today’s test two pilots — Mark “Forger” Stucky and Dave Mackay — were at the controls of the VSS Unity as its dropped from its mothership. Unlike the original SpaceShipTwo vehicle, the Unity is built by The Spaceship Company, a subsidiary of Virgin Group, which is also building two more spaceships for the space company.
Virgin Galactic has yet to announce target altitude or speed for this test. This is a big test for the company and it has been relatively quiet about its existence — a stark difference from Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Update: Richard Branson just released a bit of info minutes after the flight.
Virgin Galactic was founded and so far existed to provide a reusable platform to reach sub-orbital altitudes of about 68 miles above the Earth. It’s capable of carrying passengers who are expected to pay around $250,000 for the trip and today’s showed that the company is back on the track to be a viable space delivery system. It’s unlikely the company could have survived another fatal disaster.