Virgin Galactic steps up space tourism race with successful test launch

The space tourism race has moved forward with the second successful trial of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spacecraft.

VSS Unity fired its main engine and reached a height of 114,500ft over California before landing in the Mojave desert on Tuesday. It achieved a top speed of Mach 1.9, The Times reported.

The spacecraft was lifted by WhiteKnightTwo, a carrier aircraft, to a height of 45,600ft before being released.

The second test flight in less than two months came almost four years since Virgin Galactic’s original spacecraft, VSS Enterprise, crashed during a test in October 2014, killing its co-pilot.

Sir Richard said: “Today we saw VSS Unity in her natural environment, flying fast under rocket power and with a nose pointing firmly towards the black sky of space.

“The pathway Unity is forging is one that many thousands of us will take over time, and will help share a perspective that is crucial to solving some of humanity’s toughest challenges.”

Virgin Galactic plans to fly its spacecraft from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Sir Richard plans to be on the inaugural flight, which he said last week would be in a matter of months, adding that he has been going for astronaut training.

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