Virgin Galactic’s Second Spaceplane, SpaceshipTwo, Aces First Glide Test

First Posted: Dec 06, 2016 02:24 AM EST

Virgin Galactic's second rocket plane, SpaceshipTwo, completed its first free flight glide test over the Mojave Desert on Dec. 3.

The plane, which was introduced in February, was released from its carrier plane, WhiteKnightTwo at 10:40 a.m. EST as it glided back to a runway landing 10 minutes later. With two pilots, Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and Test Pilot Mark Stucky, in control, the VSS Unity spaceship's first glide test went very well as it was brought to an altitude of about 50,000 feet. The carrier also made a safe landing on the ground.

"As expected, for this first gliding test flight, VSS Unity was flying light and slow, achieving a maximum speed of approximately Mach 0.6 while gliding home from an altitude of 50,000 feet," Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

"An initial look at the data as well as feedback from our two pilots indicate that today's flight went extremely well, but we'll take the time to properly and thoroughly analyze the vehicle's performance before clearing the vehicle for our next test," the company added.

The glide tests will examine the vehicle's performance at a wide range of weights, from light loads to heavy spacecraft full of passengers, Space Flight Now reports. The test will also provide information on the spaceship's performance at different airspeeds and flight angles. With the plane's maneuver, the passengers aboard will experience a few minutes of microgravity and enjoy the sceneries of the Earth beyond its orbit.

The successful glide test is an achievement for the company following a tragic crash that happened two years ago during the fourth powered test flight of the first SpaceShipTwo test vehicle, VSS Enterprise. The co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, unlocked the plane's braking system early, leading to the crash that cost his life. Pilot Peter Siebold was seriously injured when the craft broke apart 10 miles over the Mojave Desert.

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