According to CNBC and a tweet from Virgin Galactic at 9:05 a.m., the spaceplane, dubbed SpaceShipTwo Unity, was carried high above the Mojave desert by its mothership WhiteKnightTwo, where it was released.
This was Virgin Galactic's first powered flight since the 2014 crash of its original spaceship that killed one of its two pilots. Although the VSS Unity has previously done many glide tests, this was the first time its rocket motor was turned on.
Virgin founder Richard Branson said last year he hoped to begin commercial launches this year, but the company has not revealed any schedule details and it's not yet clear when paying customers might get off the ground. VSS Unity features a modified feathering system that should prevent such premature unlocking, Virgin Galactic representatives have said.
The six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo vehicle was created to carry people and scientific payloads on brief jaunts to suborbital space. After a few seconds, Unity kickstarted its rocket motor and the pilots aimed the spaceship upwards into an 80 degree climb, accelerating to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn.
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The tail booms were rotated back in line with Unity's fuselage at an altitude of about 50,000 feet and from there, Stucky and Mackay flew a normal gliding approach to a runway landing.
Rather than aiming for space using a traditional vertically launched rocket, Virgin Galactic uses a massive plane, called a mothership, to hoist its reusable spaceship into the air before the craft ignites its own engine. This was the first time Unity has achieved supersonic flight. The company can now proceed with new phases, including full-duration rocket burns and powered flight. Data review to come, then on to the next flight.
Branson tweeted that the company was now "back on track" after the successful powered flight.
Once the test program is completed, the focus of operations will shift to Spaceport America in New Mexico. Space Florida applauds Virgin Galactic for the firm's extensive work readying its spacecraft and look forward to Virgin Galactic's additional achievements within the commercial space and space tourism industry.