Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo performed its first free flight Dec. 3, a glide test that begins the next phase in testing of the commercial suborbital spaceplane.
SpaceShipTwo, named VSS Unity, and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at about 9:50 a.m. ET. The spaceplane separated from WhiteKnightTwo at 10:40 a.m. ET, gliding back to a runway landing in Mojave 10 minutes later, according to updates provided by the company.
The glide flight, which Virgin Galactic declared a success, begins the next phase in testing of the long-delayed suborbital vehicle that is ultimately designed to carry space tourists and research payloads to an altitude of about 62 miles, exposing them to several minutes of microgravity.
The flight is the first in a series of glide flights to test the aerodynamic performance of the vehicle before moving ahead into powered flights. In an interview at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Oct. 13, Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses said the number of flights will depend on how long it takes to achieve a set of test objectives.