Virgin Galactic Completes Second Suborbital Test Flight [Video]

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane completed its second successful test flight on Thursday, according to a report from SpaceNews’ Jeff Foust.

You can watch a video of the flight below.

“The suborbital vehicle, named VSS Unity, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California around 4:20 p.m. Eastern attached to its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft,” Foust writes. “SpaceShipTwo was released from WhiteKnightTwo about 40 minutes later, gliding back to a runway landing in Mojave.”

The time of the flight was not officially announced in advance, Foust says, and Virgin Galactic has not yet released any technical information about the flight. However, Virgin Galactic did tweet a major hint that they were planning to launch a test flight some time soon before the flight commenced.

“Well done to the pilots and the whole crew. Great way to end the year!” George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, tweeted after the VSS Unity landed safely.

The VSS Unity completed its first successful test flight back on December 3. That flight, however, was delayed one month due to undisclosed technical difficulties.

Virgin Galactic is undoubtedly exceptionally leery of any potential technical issues that could spell trouble.

The first SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight back in 2014, Engadget notes. One pilot died in the crash and the other suffered “severe” injuries. The company suspended test flights after that incident.

Virgin Galactic announced its second SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Unity that just completed the two test flights, back in February.

In October, Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses announced that the company would be making test flights in the near future, adding that SpaceShipTwo would be accelerated only to Mach 1 during the initial tests.

We’ll start slow,” Moses said, according to Digital Trends. “Once that’s under our belts, we’ll punch through to full duration, expand the envelope, and look at all the off-nominal conditions that can occur.”

The company does not have any more test flights planned for 2016, but the success of the VSS Unity’s first two flights suggest that Virgin Galactic is gearing up for a busy 2017.

“Virgin Galactic will enter 2017 likely needing to carry out a number of additional glide flights,” Foust says. “In October, Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses said that there was not a set number of glide flights planned. Instead, the company planned to carry out glide tests until it completes all its test objectives.”

Moses estimated that the company will more than likely need to complete about 10 test flights in order to complete its objectives for the year.

Foust says that despite the delays and the crash, about 700 people have already signed up to fly on SpaceShipTwo and either paid for the full ticket price or put a deposit on one. The flights will provide “views of the Earth from altitudes of up to 100 kilometers as well as several minutes of microgravity,” according to Foust.

If Virgin Galactic truly wants to be the first company to offer commercial space travel, they better hurry. Elon Musk’s SpaceX might be ahead of the curve in that field.

In February, Space.com’s Elizaveth Howell reported that SpaceX had become the first company to make a private flight to the International Space Station.

SpaceX’s Dragon spaceship, which was launched by a SpaceX rocket, made a delivery to the station for NASA. SpaceX has a “lucrative” contract with NASA to make deliveries to the station, according to Space.com.

SpaceX is also developing its Falcon Heavy, which is expected to be the most powerful rocket ever known.

Fortunately for Virgin Galactic, SpaceX appears to be focused on exploration and deliveries for now. So, hopefully for Moses and the rest of the crew, Musk’s team won’t be cutting too deeply into the space tourism market just yet.

With those two companies going full steam ahead, and several others trying to get in on the commercial space travel and exploration business, we are sure to see some amazing developments in that frontier in the near future.

[Featured Image by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images]