Virgin Galactic has launched its first powered flight in four years, in the beginning of the final phase of test flights by the space company, which aims to take tourists on paid trips into the lower reaches of space.
According to the London Evening Standard the VSS Unity past the speed of sound before touching down safely again.
Footage from the test flight shows the spacecraft separating from its launch vehicle and accelerating under rocket power to supersonic speed. A huge plume of flames shot from the base of the spacecraft as it roared upwards with two crew, Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay, at the helm, the daily paper described.
During the 30-second rocket blast, the Unity hit Mach 1.87 before cruising and then returning for a successful landing.
“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.
“Space feels tantalizingly close now,” Virgin boss Richard Branson wrote on Twitter. The spacecraft was launched from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port using the carry vehicle Eve.
Virgin Galactic is developing commercial spacecraft and aims to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists and suborbital launches for space science missions.
The founder of the company Sir Richard Branson, had initially suggested that he hoped to see a maiden flight by the end of 2009,but this date has been delayed on a number of occasions.
The fifth powered test of Branson’s space firm’s SpaceShipTwo is the first since the 2014 crash of the Spaceship Enterprise that killed one of its pilots. Evening Standard said that the milestone marks the beginning of the final phase of test flights by Mr Branson’s space company, which aims to take tourists on paid trips into the lower reaches of space.