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VSS Unity's first powered test flight

VSS Unity's first powered test flight”

Virgin Galactic successfully conducted the first flight of its rocket powered spaceplane, the VSS Unity, Friday.

In the one-minute video released by the company, the space plane was shown as it was dropped from the mothership airplane that carried it into the skies just above the Mojave Desert.

It was the first rocket-powered flight for VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo vehicle, after seven previous glide test flights. Pilots Dave Mackay and Mark Stucky separated Unity from its carrier aircraft at an altitude of 46,500 feet, then fired its rocket motor to reach 84,271 feet before returning to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port.

The six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo vehicle was created to carry people and scientific payloads on brief jaunts to suborbital space.

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The flight, which took place in California on April 5, 2018, starts the final phase of Unity's flight test program before the vehicle is delivered Virgin Galactic for commercial service. The successful test flight is the result of over 2 years of extensive ground and atmospheric testing.

Unity only reaches heights of about 80 km, but it's still enough to very easily view our planet's curvature. The pilots raised the vehicle's twin tail booms to an angle of 60 degrees in a maneuver known as "feathering", which helped ease the stresses experienced while plunging back into the thick lower atmosphere.

Seconds later, the pilots turned on Unity's engine for the first time.

Unity is a follow-on production model called SpaceShipTwo, built by The Spaceship Company. The runway landing was described as smooth.

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"Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic, tweeted: "@virgingalactic back on track.

The flight generated "valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance", which Virgin Galactic's engineers are now studying. While the company celebrates that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead.

The firm praised pilots Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile for the "great milestone test flight".

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations.

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