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Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic hit a major milestone Thursday afternoon.
The company marked its first successful powered spaceship flight since the fatal crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury in October 2014.
A crew of two pilots at Virgin Galactic’s test site at Mojave Air and Space Port (MHV) flew the jet-powered mothership, dubbed Eve, and dropped the spacecraft, Unity, mid-flight. Before the test, CNBC reported that Unity would fire its engines for up to 30 seconds and shoot to fly as fast as 1.5 times the speed of sound. Virgin Galactic confirmed on Twitter that Unity did go supersonic.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) April 5, 2018
You can see the flight path on FlightRadar24, even as the space plane reaches its peak of roughly 62,000 feet.
The successful powered flight means a step back in the right direction on the space tourism company’s path to launching its future passengers outside the Earth’s atmosphere for about $250,000 a pop. Last year, Branson said his company was closing in on this mission. “We are now just months away from Virgin Galactic sending people into space and Virgin Orbit placing satellites around the Earth,” he said.
Virgin Galactic’s subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, builds and tests the spacecraft. The Spaceship Company had only been testing glide flights without engines since the 2014 crash. Federal investigators found that accident was caused both by human error and insufficient safety procedures, reports The Guardian. The original SpaceShipTwo aircraft disintegrated in seconds after the co-pilot unlocked the space plane’s “feathering system” at the wrong speed. The system is meant to slow down and stabilize the spacecraft as it returns to Earth.
The new SpaceShipTwo features design changes to avoid a similar accident from occurring again.
Featured image by Virgin Galactic.
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