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VSS Unity takes supersonic flight towards space tourism

07 April 2018

Virgin Galactica's aim of space tours has a pricetag of £250,000, however the company has not officially revealed a deadline for its very first customer flights, even the LosAngeles Times reported.

The spacecraft, VSS Unity, launched from Mojave, California and successfully reached speeds of up to mach 1.6 for the first time under rocket power. Unity, which "incorporates the additional safety mechanisms adopted after the 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight accident", according to a press release, is much heavier and is not created to reach quite those heights.

It was the premature activation of this feature which doomed the VSS Enterprise back in 2014. SpaceShipTwo's wing-bending brake system was accidentally engaged while the rocket was firing, and aerodynamic forces caused the plane to break up. Not only was the plane destroyed, but pilot Michael Alsbury's life was cut short. Pilot Pete Siebold survived, thanks to his parachute, but was seriously injured during the breakup and fall.

Virgin Galactic also envisions a fleet operating from Spaceport America in New Mexico, and plans to offer flights for research as well as satellite deployment.

Test pilots Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay fired Unity's engines and rocketed skyward.

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Rain eases to showers overnight and Friday looks mainly dry through the Capital Region - a welcome break between systems. Spring means severe weather and the State of MI wants to make sure everyone is ready with a state-wide tornado drill.

The rocket motor was sacked for 30 seconds, significantly less than the full duration planned for spaceflight. Unity also broke the sound barrier for the first time in today's test flight, reaching a speed of Mach 1.87, or about 1,434 miles per hour. The spaceship reached 84,000 feet (25,000 m) before making a smooth runway landing, the company said.

"The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing", Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

Virgin Galactic's USS Unity on the edge of orbit. Blue Origin, owned by Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos, has also entered the commercial space arena, building a roomy capsule that will be boosted out of the atmosphere by a more traditional hydrogen-powered rocket.

Unity's successful trip brings Virgin Galactic one step closer to their ultimate goal: to get people on commercial flights to space. "Space feels tantalisingly close now".

VSS Unity takes supersonic flight towards space tourism