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Virgin Galactic's Second Spaceship Has Made Its First Solo Flight

It's two years since the first iteration's fatal crash over the Mojave Desert.

05/12/2016 13:53 | Updated 05 December 2016
Virgin

The second iteration of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo performed its first free glide and landing over the weekend, in a milestone moment for the firm.

The plane, called VSS Unity, was propelled into the sky by its carrier, the WhiteKnightTwo, before being released to make a powerless descent. 

It will conduct a number of similar test flights before the pilots can switch on the rockets, which will one day take passengers to sub-orbital altitudes.

A Virgin Galactic spokesperson said: “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.”

As Wired notes, the firm is keen to reiterate its cautiousness. This latest flight comes two years after the first SpaceShipTwo crashed over the Mojave Desert.

The pilot, Michael Alsbury, was killed and co-pilot, Pieter Siebold, was seriously injured in the incident, which occurred during a rocket-powered test flight.

Gene Blevins / Reuters
The first iteration of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.

A nine-month investigation concluded the crash was caused by pilot error and inadequate safety procedures.

Virgin Galactic staff have spent the last two years fixing those errors.

During the latest flight, which took place on 4 December, VSS Unity was carried to an altitude of 50,000 feet by WhiteNightTwo.

But while the total flight took one hour and 20 minutes, the craft was only free-gliding for ten minutes.

It reached a top speed of Mach 0.6 (457mph).

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