Science & Tech
Virgin Galactic passenger spaceship completes first supersonic flight
Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic venture announced on Thursday (April 5) that its passenger spacecraft, Virgin Space Ship Unity, had successfully completed its first supersonic, rocket-powered flight.
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The test came three and a half years after an accident destroyed its sister ship during a test flight over California's Mojave Desert, killing one pilot.
The company said in a news release the milestone marked the start of the final portion of Unity's flight test program.
The spaceship, built by Virgin Galactic's own manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company, is slated to take thrill-seekers, researchers and commercial customers on short hops into space.
Unity took off attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft at 8:02am (1502gmt) from the Mojave Air and Space Port, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Los Angeles, Virgin said.
At around 46,500ft Unity was released from the carrier aircraft and a hybrid rocket motor powered the spaceship into supersonic flight for the first time. It then jettisoned its remaining oxidizer and glided back to land on the runway.
The two-pilot, six-passenger spaceship is designed to reach altitudes of 62 miles (100 km) above the planet, providing a few minutes of weightlessness and a view of Earth set against the blackness of space. Nearly 700 people have signed up for rides, which cost $250,000 each.