Virgin Galactic successfully launched and landed its Unity spacecraft by rocket power, completing its first powered flight in almost four years.
Richard Branson’s space company shared a photo of the SpaceShipTwo model spacecraft as it blasted into the air above the Mojave Air and Space Port before going supersonic and landing safely.
“VSS Unity completed her first supersonic, rocket-powered flight this morning in Mojave, California. Another great test flight, another step closer to being,” Virgin Galactic wrote on Twitter.
Unity took off at about 8:02 a.m. as it was propelled to an altitude of 46,500 feet by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, VMS Eve.
Eve then released Unity from under its wing and the SpaceShipTwo’s pilots Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay brought the spacecraft’s engines to life and propelled it into an 80 degree climb, accelerating to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn.
“On rocket shutdown, Unity continued an upwards coast to an apogee of 84,271 feet before readying for the downhill return,” Virgin Galactic said.
Once the spacecraft began to descend, the pilots raised its tail booms to a 60 degree angle from the fuselage into the “feathered” configuration, which was adopted after fatal 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight crash.
At 50,000 feet, the tail-booms were lowered again and the Unity glided toward a safe landing on the runway.
“The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing,” Virgin Galactic said. “It also marks a key moment for the test flight program, entering now the exciting phase of powered flight and the expansion to full duration rocket burns.”
The newest SpaceShipTwo model was unveiled in February 2016, when the late professor Stephen Hawking gave the ship the name “Unity.”
In the future Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft will take passengers 68 miles above the Earth’s surface for a price of $250,000.