Virgin Galactic's carrier aircraft releases its Unity spacecraft during a glide test.
Virgin Galactic's most recent space flight test was halted after the engine of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle "Unity" failed to fully ignite while attempting to take off over New Mexico on Saturday.
While there were no passengers on board, Unity was piloted for the flight by CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay. Virgin Galactic wanted to reach the edge of space for the third time, in its first space trip from its New Mexico operating base. Both the spaceship and the carrier aircraft landed on the runway at Spaceport America, which is about 50 miles north of the city of Las Cruces.
"The firing sequence for the rocket motor was not completed. The vehicle and crew are in excellent shape. We have several engines ready at Spaceport America. We will check the vehicle and fly again soon," the company said in a tweet.
Virgin Galactic confirmed that the spacecraft had successfully returned on a glide flight to land at Spaceport America in New Mexico, where it took off under its carrier aircraft about an hour earlier. The company determined that both pilots are "safe and sound".
"Bike stop, SpaceShipTwo Unity," Virgin Galactic said in a tweet.
An unofficial webcast by the space enthusiast forum NASASpaceflight revealed that the spacecraft's engine stalled after a brief shot. SpaceShipTwo was released under its carrier aircraft at an altitude of about 40,000 feet, with Unity's engine igniting just before shutdown. Typically, the spacecraft is set free from the jet and then fires its rocket motor for more than a minute, reaching a speed about three times the speed of sound.
Virgin Galactic's spaceflight attempt was the company's first in nearly 22 months. The previous space flight attempt in February 2019 when Unity reached an altitude of almost 90 kilometers during a test launch from the Mojave Desert in California. The company is working to launch commercial service flights from Spaceport America, where it has relocated operations from its development and manufacturing facilities in the Mojave Air and Spaceport.
Saturday's flight was the first of three remaining space tests the company plans to conduct to complete development of its spacecraft system. The third will wear founder Sir Richard Branson. The impact of the canceled test on Virgin Galactic's flight schedule remains to be determined. The Branson flight was previously scheduled for the first quarter of 2021.
In addition to the two pilots, Unity's flight on Saturday conducted microgravity experiments for NASA, awarded as part of the agency's Flight Opportunities program.
Virgin Galactic has approximately 600 customer reservations on its books, most of which sold a few years ago at a price of $ 200,000 to $ 250,000 per ticket. The company plans to fully reopen ticket sales in 2021 after Branson's flight, although it is not known how much tickets will cost after sales reopen. Company executives previously said that due to the high demand for tickets, Virgin Galactic expects to significantly increase prices on its first commercial flights.
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