Virgin Galactic successfully completes first rocket-powered flight test, four years after fatal crash

After two years of extensive ground and atmospheric testing, and nearly four years after the fatal crash of VSS Enterprise, Virgin Galactic’s has safely and successfully completed its first supersonic, rocket-powered flight with VSS Unity.

The experimental spacecraft took off at 8:02am on 5 April 2018 with Mark “Forger” Stucky and Dave Mackay in the cockpit, attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, piloted by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile.

The vehicles climbed to 46,500ft over the Sierra Nevada Mountains where Unity was released and its rocket motor fired, accelerating to Mach 1.87 in 30 seconds, continuing upwards to 84,271ft before returning to Earth.

Virgin Galactic’s founder, Richard Branson tweeted: “virgingalactic back on track. Successful powered flight, Mach 1.6. Data review to come, then on to the next flight. Space feels tantalisingly close now.”

The flight was also significant for Virgin Galactic’s sister manufacturing organisation, The Spaceship Company. Unity is the first vehicle to be built from scratch for Virgin Galactic by The Spaceship Company’s team of aerospace engineers and technicians.

Virgin Galactic said in a statement: “The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing. It also marks a key moment for the test flight program, entering now the exciting phase of powered flight and the expansion to full duration rocket burns.

“While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead.”