Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which is backed by Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Investment Company, has passed a major milestone in the pursuit of its commercial space travel goal.
SpaceShipTwo completed a test flight from Spaceport America, marking the first solo flight of VSS Unity in New Mexico.
Virgin’s flight took off from the Spaceport America runway, with VSS Unity attached to the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve.
The vehicles climbed to an altitude of 51,000ft before Unity was released, at which point it flew freely for the first time in New Mexico airspace.
Virgin’s spaceship achieved a glide speed of Mach 0.75 and completed multiple test-points, before touching back down at Spaceport America.
The glide flight provided the first opportunity to test all the components required to fly the carrier aircraft and spaceship in glide configuration, from a new home base and in new airspace.
Pilots performed a series of manoeuvres with VSS Unity designed to gather data about performance and handling qualities in order to enhance our aerodynamic modelling and verify against similar manoeuvres that were performed earlier in Unity’s test flight programme.
This test flight was conducted under a set of operational protocols in relation to Covid-19, including mask usage.
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, said: “I am grateful for the commitment displayed by everyone involved, not only in helping to support relief efforts in both New Mexico and California, but also for the dedication and creativity which will allow us to continue safely towards our goal of commercial launch.”