Virgin Galactic tests passenger rocket ship, 3 years after fatal accident

Virgin Galactic conducts first rocket-powered test since 2014 crash

Virgin Galactic conducts first rocket-powered test since 2014 crash

Virgin Galactic's new spaceship climbed at supersonic speed over California's Mojave Desert on Thursday in the company's first powered flight since the fatal crash of its original rocketship in 2014.

Following the test flight, Branson declared on a tweet that Virgin Galactic is "back on track".

Virgin founder Richard Branson said last year he hoped to begin commercial launches this year, but the company has not revealed any schedule details and it's not yet clear when paying customers might get off the ground. The space-ship climbed steeply and went supersonic - Mach 1.87 - throughout the 30-second rocket burn off.

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"The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing", Virgin said in a statement on the company's web page.

The vehicle then coasted to and altitude of 84,271 feet, before making a runway landing. Four years ago, a previous version of SpaceShipTwo broke apart in midair during a powered test flight, killing one of two pilots.

The view from Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity during the spaceliner's first rocket-powered test on April 5, 2018. Virgin Galactic previously used rubber fuel in the SpaceShipTwo motor, but switched to the plastic-based compound before the 2014 crash.

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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.

Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch.

Space Florida congratulated Richard Branson and the Virgin Galactic team on their return to flight, the first in almost four years, from the Mojave Air and Space Port today. The company can now proceed with new phases, including full-duration rocket burns and powered flight.

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Virgin Galactic's craft is created to carry a pair of pilots and up to six passengers who will eventually be able to pony up $250,000 for a trip into space. "While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead", the company stated in a release issued after the flight.

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