Flight Test Edges Virgin Galactic Closer to Space Tourism

Virgin Galactic 

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic successfully tested another stage in its spaceflight program Monday, taking the company one step closer to flying people to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.

From the Mojave Air and Space Port in the Mojave Desert, the VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo each completed successful test flights, with the VSS Unity performing Virgin Galactic’s signature “feather” re-entry system for the first time.

This was the latest in a series of flight tests for the team at Virgin Galactic, which hopes to have a commercial flight in the air by 2018. The action was live-tweeted on Virgin Galactic’s twitter account.

Virgin Galactic’s feather system enables SpaceShipTwo to use a pair of extendable wings during the descent phase of its mission. WhiteKnightTwo acts as a carrier ship, flying SpaceShipTwo up to 50,000 feet until the smaller ship can detach itself to fly space travelers to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere.

An image of the VSS Unity flying in the 'feather' configuration. Trumbull Studios

Virgin Galactic faced a huge setback when the original SpaceShipTwo was the cause of a fatal crash in 2014, but the company says it’s made considerable improvements to the craft’s design in the years since.

It seems like Virgin Galactic is back on track — at least a lot of rich people seem to think so. Around 500 people have already paid the company $250,000 for a future seat on the commercial spacecraft.