By Gavin Gibbon
Inaugural solo flight of VSS Unity took place from Spaceport America in New Mexico
Richard Branson’s Mubadala-backed Virgin Galactic has completed its first SpaceShipTwo test flight from Spaceport America.
The glide flight marks the inaugural solo flight of VSS Unity in New Mexico and included take-off and landing along with high-altitude release from the mothership, VMS Eve.
After taking off from the Spaceport America runway, the vehicles climbed to an altitude of 50,000ft before Unity was released, at which point VSS Unity flew freely for the first time in New Mexico airspace.
The spaceship achieved a glide speed of Mach 0.70 and completed multiple test-points, before touching back down smoothly for a runway landing at Spaceport America.
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, said: “I am grateful for the commitment displayed by everyone involved, not only in helping to support relief efforts in both New Mexico and California, but also for the dedication and creativity which will allow us to continue safely towards our goal of commercial launch.”
The test flight was conducted under a set of stringent operational protocols to ensure safety against Covid-19.
Preparations for the next flight have now begun, with in depth analysis of the inaugural flight data.
Last year Virgin Galactic became the first publicly-listed space tourism firm when it began trading on the New York State Exchange.
Shareholders approved a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia to create Virgin Galactic Holdings, which trades under the symbol ‘SPCE’.
Following the transaction, Virgin Galactic had a market capitalisation of $2.3 billion.
In November 2018, UBS estimated that the space industry could triple in size from $340 billion to $926bn by 2040.