The spacecraft was carried to an altitude of 46,500 feet by its mothership before it was released over California's Mojave Desert yesterday (April 5). The VSS Unity returned to the Mojave Air and Space Port for a runway landing. The successful test comes nearly four years after a fatal accident on an earlier version of the spaceship (See: Virgin Galactic space craft crashes in California, killing pilot during test flight).
Thursday marked the first time the VSS Unity spaceship has flown with its rocket motor ablaze.
Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard tweeted that "Space feels tantalisingly close now".
"It's a big step forward for our team, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said when reached by phone". After a few seconds, Unity kickstarted its rocket motor and the pilots aimed the spaceship upwards into an 80 degree climb, accelerating to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn.
VSS Unity went through more than a year of testing prior to today's test flight, which included seven glide tests, Sputnik reported.
The pilots raised the craft's unique twin tail booms to a 60-degree angle to the fuselage to slow and stabilize Unity during the initial stages of descent, and then lowered them back to the conventional configuration lower in the atmosphere. Data review to come, then on to the next flight. Its new SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, made its first gliding test flight in 2016. The company can now proceed with new phases, including full-duration rocket burns and powered flight.
According to Virgin Galactic, passengers float in zero gravity for several minutes during the flight, and "experience astounding views of Earth from the black sky of space", from approximately 62 miles (100 kilometres) above Earth. While the company celebrates that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead. Passengers will prepare for three days at New Mexico's Spaceport America prior to the flight, and the whole thing will be filmed for each "astronaut" as a memento.