This week, Virgin Galactic conducted a test flight of its VSS Unity space plane, a rocket-powered suborbital crewed vehicle – and produced a gorgeous two-and-a-half minute video to record it.
The Unity, constructed in 2016, was named by the late physicist Stephen Hawking, and bears a logo based on his eye. The craft is the second built by Richard Branson’s company. The first, VSS Enterprise, was destroyed in a crash in October 2014.
Once fully tested and operational, the VSS class space planes will be piloted by two crew, and will carry either six passengers or scientific equipment into suborbital space. Tickets for the first commercial flight – date unknown – are already on sale, for a modest $250,000 each.
During this week’s test, the Unity was taken up attached to a specially designed launch plane called WhiteKnightTwo. It was released at approximately 15,000 metres, then flew under its own power for 31 seconds, reaching 34,900 metres and hitting just shy of twice the speed of sound.
The craft then executed a textbook runway landing.