VSS Unity conducts first powered flight

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The company says the spacecraft achieved supersonic speed before the pilots shut down the engine and it glided back to Mojave Air & Space Port.

"We are now just months away from Virgin Galactic sending people into space and Virgin Orbit placing satellites around the Earth", Virgin Group Founder Branson said in October 2017, according to CNBC.

Virgin Galactic plans to perform a series of additional powered test flights with Unity.

Branson couldn't contain his excitement on twitter following the test flight: "Data review to come, then on to the next flight". 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).

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Thursday's successful test is a milestone for Virgin Galactic's testing program and puts the company one step closer toward its goal of ferrying tourists into suborbital space.

Congratulations to the teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for a job well done today - and in recognition of their pursuit to open space and change the world for good.

A ticket to ride the space plane now sells for $250,000.

At about 8 a.m. local time, the VMS Eve carrier plane took off from Mojave, Calif., carrying SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity before releasing it 14,000 metres above ground, Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

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While Unity has flown with the mother ship before, and has been released in glide tests, this is the first time it's fired up its rocket to fly on its own. After a few seconds, Unity's rocket motor was brought to life and the pilots aimed the spaceship upwards into an 80 degree climb, accelerating to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn. The company can now proceed with new phases, including full-duration rocket burns and powered flight.

The flight was the 12th overall for Unity, which Virgin Galactic officially unveiled in February 2016. "Space feels tantalizingly close now".

Virgin Galactic is in stiff competition with Blue Origin, founded by Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos, to be the first company to begin commercial suborbital space tourism and research service with human-rated spacecraft.

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