News & Opinion | December 5, 2016 9:00 am

Virgin’s New Spaceplane Brings Us One Step Closer to Space Tourism

Unlike its predecessor, the VSS Unity didn’t crash

In a development that brings the masses one small step closer to boldly going where only a select few have gone before, Virgin Galactic’s redesigned spaceplane successfully flew by itself.

The successor to the Virgin Galactic aircraft that suffered a deadly crash in 2014, the VSS Unity finished a 10-minute glide test and was then able to land under its own power on a runway.

The Unity — which completed the glide after detaching from its carrier aircraft at an altitude of 50,000 feet — reached a max speed of about Mach 0.6 while it was soaring back to the ground.

Even though the solo flight went “extremely well,” Virgin says it was just “the first of many” and more data is needed before it can progress to the rocket-powered phase of the testing program.  

“We’ll take the time to properly and thoroughly analyze the vehicle’s performance before clearing the vehicle for our next test,” according to Virgin. “We’re looking forward to getting back into the skies as soon as the engineers say we are ready to do so.”

While there’s no doubt the glide flight represents progress, an exact timetable for when Virgin will gets its commercial space tourism program off the ground remains up in the air, so to speak.