Virgin Galactic rocket test launch 3 years after fatal crash
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic successfully conducted supersonic test flight of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity passenger rocket on April 5, 2018, three years after the fatal crash of VSS Enterprise in 2014.
The VSS Unity, carried by VMS Eve, took off at 8:02 am from Mojave, California, piloted by Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay. VMS Eve released SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity at 46,500 feet (14,000 m) above ground. A rocket motor then accelerated Unity to Mach 1.87 during a 30-second before the ship’s two pilots shut it down.
On rocket shutdown, Unity continued an upwards coast to an apogee of 84,271ft before readying for the downhill return. At this stage, the pilots raised the vehicle’s tail booms to a 60 degree angle to the fuselage, into the ‘feathered’ configuration. According to Virgin Galactic statement, the feature incorporates the additional safety mechanisms adopted after the 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight accident.
The vehicle had not performed such a test flight since the first SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, broke apart in a tragic accident that killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injured pilot Peter Siebold on October 31, 2014. It was later determined that the crash was a result of a pilot error when Alsbury unlocked Enterprise's ‘feathering’ descent system too early.
SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry passengers and other payloads to suborbital space. The journey on the vehicle would take travelers approximately 62 miles (100km) above Earth to experience few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet.
Currently, a ticket for a ride on SpaceShipTwo sells at $250,000 per seat.
In 2016, the space company was granted an operating license to fly its passenger ship with the world’s first paying space tourists once final safety tests are completed according to Reuters, however the date of the first passenger flight is yet to be announced.