Virgin Galactic Rocket Makes First Flight

23.05.2021 / 11:42

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space plane has conducted the first of three key test flights that should enable it to enter commercial service.

The Unity vehicle, with pilots Dave Mackay and CJ Sturckow at the controls, powered to a height of 89km (55 miles), and then glided back down to Earth.

Sir Richard has some 600 paying customers - including movie and music stars - waiting to take the same ride.

But they'll only get their chance once Unity is fully licensed.

That ought, finally, to happen by the year's end.

Officials will want to see, for example, that an electronic interference issue that aborted a previous flight attempt in December, has been corrected. On the evidence of Saturday's successful flight, it has been.

The flight itself followed the usual pattern.

Unity was carried to 13km in altitude by its "mother" aircraft, Eve, before being released to ignite its rocket motor.

The vehicle then climbed rapidly to the edge of space, achieving a speed three times that of sound (Mach 3) along the way.

It was the sixth time Unity had conducted a powered ascent in its five-year test programme, although this one was particularly noteworthy because it was the first such demonstration to run out of what will be its operational home - the purpose-built commercial hub known as Spaceport America.

Sofia Photo Agency

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