Virgin Galactic airborne after two year hiatus

11 pictures

The flight lasted almost four hours over the Mojave Desert(Credit: Virgin Galactic)

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Virgin Galactic has returned to flight status with SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity taking to the skies over Mojave, California. Though a full crew was in the cockpit, this was a captive-carry test flight, where the passenger-carrying spacecraft remained firmly attached to the WhiteKnightTwo mothership, VMS Eve. According to Virgin Galactic, the paired planes reached an altitude of over 50,000 feet during the 3 hour and 43 minute test flight.

The company says that the purpose of today's flight was to turn the WhiteKnightTwo into a "flying wind tunnel." With test pilots Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay at the controls of VSS Unity and pilots Mike Masucci and Todd Ericson aboard VMS Eve with flight test engineer Wes Persall, airflow over SpaceShipTwo was measured along with its performance in frigid high-altitude temperatures.

The flight also acted as practice for mission control, which will monitor the craft when it makes its first flights into space on suborbital trajectories. Meanwhile, engineers will be kept busy analyzing flight data and making detailed vehicle inspections to help with future modifications. According to a Virgin Galactic spokesman, the purpose is to not only build a craft capable of traveling into space, but of logging thousands of flight hours.

Today's flight follows Virgin Galactic's flight recertification after a fatal accident during a test flight in 2014, when VSS Enterprise (SS2-001) broke up in midair 13 seconds after being dropped from the WhiteKnightTwo mothership. This resulted in the death of the co-pilot Michael Alsbury and severe injury to the pilot, Peter Siebold, who was thrown clear as the craft disintegrated. Subsequent investigation by the FAA concluded that the accident was due to an error by Alsbury, who deployed the tail boom 14 seconds too early.

The video below takes us through the latest test flight.

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View gallery - 11 images

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