Virgin Galactic began initial testing on its experimental spacecraft on Friday, returning to the skies with the help of a launch vehicle for the first time in two years.
The SpaceShipTwo called VSS Unity flew for about four hours, while attached to the WhiteKnightTwo launch vehicle. Flying with the plane allowed the company to test how the spacecraft performs at the atmospheric and temperature conditions it will need to get into space. Unlike NASA’s space shuttle or the commercial crew vehicles in partnership with the government agency, SpaceShipTwo needs an aircraft to launch it into the sky before the spaceship points at the dark horizon.
The next step is to analyze that flight data, and to make sure that the next flight can also be done safely. Virgin Galactic faced a significant setback after the crash of the VSS Enterprise in 2014.
The SpaceShipTwo was built in-house at Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company. Virgin has been in the space tourism game for a while – the SpaceShipTwo was unveiled in 2009, with the goal of providing trips into space for civilians at $200,000 apiece.
In August, Virgin Galactic received Federal Aviation Administration approval for an operator license for SpaceShipTwo, which will ultimately allow for commercial use. The process included safety and flight trajectory analysis as well as examination of the vehicle’s design.
The VSS Unity project went through 72 full-scale motors over the course of the testing in Virgin Galactic’s headquarters in the Mojave desert.