Virgin Galactic lit up the skies above California’s Mojave Desert shortly after 8 AM this morning, April 5, with spacecraft VSS Unity’s first rocket-powered flight. After climbing to roughly 46,500 feet, Unity detached from mother ship Eve, at which point pilots Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay fired its rocket motor for 30 seconds, accelerating to Mach 1.87 and reaching an altitude of 84,271 feet. On descent, the pilots successfully tested the six-passenger spaceship’s “feathered” reentry configuration, in which the tail assembly rotates upward to create drag and stability (modeled after badminton shuttlecocks’ slow descent), before gliding back to Mojave Air and Space Port.
The milestone event was Virgin Galactic’s first powered flight of its spacecraft since the loss of its VSS Enterprise in October of 2014 and marks the start of the final phase of test flights. The company is currently preparing to move to its home base at Spaceport America outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, with the aim of becoming the first commercial spaceline to fly passengers into suborbital space.