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Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unit space plane aces 2nd powered test flight

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unit suborbital space plane hits after a successful powered test flight on 29 May 2018.

(Virgin Galactic via Twitter)

Virgin Galactic’s latest space plane has taken to the air again.

The suborbital SpaceShipTwo vehicle, known as a VSS Unit, completed his second ever powered test flight today (29 May), floating high above California’s Mojave Desert.

“The focus of the current flight was to expand our understanding of the spacecraft’s supersonic handling qualities and control system of the vehicle performance parameters that are closer to the final commercial configuration,” Virgin Galactic representatives wrote in a statement. “This meant a shift of the vehicle center of gravity to the rear via the addition of the seats and related equipment.” [Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unit Spaceliner in Photos]

During the flight, she added, VSS Unit fired its rocket engine for 31 seconds, as planned, and reaches a top speed of Mach 1.9 and a maximum height of 114,500 feet (34,900 ft). (Mach 1 is the speed of sound is about 767 mph or 1,235 km/h at sea level.)

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The two-pilot, six-passenger SpaceShipTwo is drawn aloft by a carrier aircraft known as WhiteKnightTwo and then released from a height of about 50,000 feet (15,000 m). The space plane then grabs on board of the rocket motor to blow themselves up.

The current mission is the 13th flight in general for the VSS Unit, which was unveiled in February 2016. Four are “captive-carry” tests, in which the space plane remained attached to WhiteKnightTwo, and seven unpowered “glide flights.” The powered test flight took place on 5 April.

That was a huge milestone for Virgin Galactic; it was the first powered mission since Oct. 31, 2014, when the company’s previous SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, broke midflight. The tragic accident killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injured pilot Peter Siebold.

Researchers later determined that a design issue allowed Alsbury to unlock the SpaceShipTwo “feathering” descent system prematurely. Engineers addressed that problem before the construction of the VSS Unit, Virgin Galactic representatives have said.

The only people on board the Unit during today’s flight were pilots Dave Mackay and Mark “Forger” Stucky. But the vehicle could begin flying paying customers early this year as the test campaign continues to go well, Virgin Galactic representatives have said. The founder of the company Sir Richard Branson has said that he plans to be in the car on the first commercial flight.

“Today we saw the VSS Unit in its natural environment, flying fast, under rocket power, and with a nose pointing firmly in the direction of the black sky of space,” Branson, who was on the ground along the space plane flight path today, said in the same statement.

“The trajectory that the Unit forging is one that many thousands of us will take the time, and will help in the sharing of a perspective that is crucial to solving some of humanity’s biggest challenges on the planet Earth,” he added.

Tickets to ride SpaceShipTwo currently sell for $ 250,000 a piece. Passengers will than a few minutes of weightlessness and the curvature of the Earth against the void of space during their suborbital ride.

But the Unity not only on tourist joyrides; the car will also fly with a variety of scientific experiments into space and back.

Originally published on Space.com.

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