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VSS Unity takes supersonic flight towards space tourism

07 April 2018

Richard Branson's company Virgin Galactic conducted a supersonic test flight of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity passenger rocket ship over the Sierra Nevada mountains on Thursday, the company said.

According to CNBC and a tweet from Virgin Galactic at 9:05 a.m., the spaceplane, dubbed SpaceShipTwo Unity, was carried high above the Mojave desert by its mothership WhiteKnightTwo, where it was released. Unity also broke the sound barrier for the first time in today's test flight, reaching a speed of Mach 1.87, or about 1,434 miles per hour. Four years ago, a previous version of SpaceShipTwo broke apart in midair during a powered test flight, killing one of two pilots. The spacecraft then achieved supersonic speed before pilots shut down the engine and it returned to Mojave Air and Space Port.

The development of the VSS Unity spaceship is part of Branson's ambitious dream to fly paying tourists into space and let them enjoy the view of the Earth.

Virgin Galactic is now officially back in the game after the successful test flight of the VSS Unity spaceship. Because of this, Unity can only reach a maximum altitude of 80 km. The crew then raised Unity's tail booms to a 60 degree angle to that of the fuselage - the so-called "feathered" configuration.

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"At around 50,000ft, the tail-booms were lowered again and, while jettisoning the remaining oxidizer, Unity turned towards Mojave for the glide home and a smooth runway landing".

Virgin Galactic's USS Unity on the edge of orbit.

The company noted that Unity has safety mechanisms that were developed after the accident. Successful powered flight, Mach 1.6.

After Thursday's test flight, Branson declared his space tourism company is "back on track".

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The flight generated "valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance", which Virgin Galactic's engineers are now studying. "While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead", the company stated in a release issued after the flight.

"#WhiteKnightTwo pilots, Mike "Sooch" Masucci and Nicola Pecile have landed VMS Eve safely, completely today's important test flight @MojaveAirport", the tweet said.

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations.

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VSS Unity takes supersonic flight towards space tourism