Virgin Galactic Completes 1st Rocket-Powered, Supersonic Flight

Unity spacecraft reached supersonic speeds of Mach 1.87 in test flight.

virgin galactic
Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson, front center, gathers with Virgin Galactic employees in front of the new SpaceShip Two VSS Unity after a roll-out ceremony of the new aircraft at the Mojave Air and Space Port on February 19, 2016 in Mojave, Ca. (Ricky Carioti/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Virgin Galactic successfully completed is first powered flight in nearly four years. Richard Branson’s space company launched its Unity spacecraft using rocket power. The ship reached supersonic speeds of Mach 1.87 before safely landing, CNBC reports.

Piloted by a two-person crew, Unity took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port and was carried by the jet-powered mothership Eve until 46,500 feet above the desert. “On rocket shutdown, Unity continued an upwards coast to an apogee of 84,271 feet before readying for the downhill return,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in a statement, according to CNBC.

This was the fifth powered test flight of the SpaceShipTwo design and the first since the fatal crash of Spaceship Enterprise on Oct. 31, 2014. It underwent extensive engine testing and seven glide tests before Virgin Galactic deemed the craft ready for a powered test flight.

The company is building two more spaceships that are intended to take people to the edge of space. Future passengers who are willing to pay $250,000 will be taken up to around 68 miles above the Earth’s surface.

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