Virgin Galactic VSS Unity's first rocket flight was a supersonic success

For the first time in about four years, Virgin Galactic has fired up the rocket motors in one of its spacecraft for a test flight. Unlike the last time in 2014, however, the test was a success and the VSS Unity managed to complete it first supersonic flight. Virgin Galactic calls this a new milestone for the company, explaining that two years of "extensive ground and atmospheric testing" went into making this possible.

The VSS Unity was built from scratch by The Spaceship Company specifically for Virgin Galactic. The spaceship took off for its test flight at 8:02AM this morning in Mojave, California, where two pilots, Dave Mackay and Mark "Forger" Stucky, were taken to a launch altitude of 46,500ft.

Once at the launch altitude, Virgin Galactic explains that the carrier aircraft VMS Eve released Unity. Only a few seconds later, Unity's rocket motor was deployed and took the pilots upward at an 80-degree climb, hitting Mach 1.87 over the course of 30 seconds. This was the first time Unity has achieved supersonic flight.

The pilots ultimately took Unity up to 84,271ft before the downhill return started. Virgin Galactic explains changes that were implemented into the spaceship's design following the 2014 accident involving the VSS Enterprise:

At this stage, the pilots raised the vehicle's tail booms to a 60 degree angle to the fuselage, into the 'feathered' configuration. This unique design feature, which is key to a reliable and repeatable re-entry capability for a winged vehicle, incorporates the additional safety mechanisms adopted after the 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight accident.

In addition to setting a new milestone for Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, this successful test flight provides the two with important motor, flight, and vehicle performance data. The company can now proceed with new phases, including full-duration rocket burns and powered flight.

SOURCE: Virgin Galactic