Virgin Galactic fires up spaceship for the first time since deadly 2014 crash

Richard Branson's spaceship fired up its rocket engine Thursday, marking the first powered test flight for the compan...

Posted: Apr 6, 2018 5:15 PM
Updated: Apr 6, 2018 5:15 PM

Richard Branson's spaceship fired up its rocket engine Thursday, marking the first powered test flight for the company since a fatal crash left it hamstrung in 2014.

Virgin Galactic said in tweets that the pilots brought the spaceship to speeds faster than the speed of sound before gliding to a landing in the Mojave Desert. It conducted a "planned partial duration burn," which means the engine intentionally didn't fire as long as it will on full missions.

Rather than aiming for space using a traditional vertically launched rocket, Virgin Galactic uses a massive plane, called a mothership, to hoist its reusable spaceship into the air before the craft ignites its own engine. The goal is to one day fly paying space tourists into the microgravity environment of space to enjoy stunning views of the Earth.

Related: Richard Branson is 'jealous' of Elon Musk's rocket launch

The company faced a major setback in 2014 when a Virgin Galactic spaceship exploded over California during a test flight, killing one of the craft's co-pilots.

Virgin Galactic has since eased back into testing by conducting gliding test flights of its new spaceship, named VSS Unity. The gliding test flights allowed the spaceship to drift back to the ground after detaching from the mothership rather than powering its engine so it could climb farther away from Earth.

Thursday marked the first time the VSS Unity spaceship has flown with its rocket motor ablaze.

The mothership took off around 8 am PT and flew to about 46,500 feet over California's Sierra Nevada Mountains before releasing the Unity spaceship. After a brief free fall, Unity's rocket motor then roared to life for a 30-second burn, vaulting the spaceship to Mach 1.87, or nearly 1,500 miles per hour, and up to a max altitude of 84,000 feet.

That's not nearly as high as the Karman line, which is generally considered the beginning of outer space and lies 62 miles or 327,000 feet above Earth's surface.

After Thursday's test flight, Branson declared his space tourism company is "back on track."

"Data review to come, then on to the next flight," he said in a tweet. "Space feels tantalisingly close now."

Branson said in February that he would be "very disappointed" if Virigin Galactic does not launch into space within the next few months.

The billionaire Virgin Group CEO founded Virgin Galactic in 2004.

Related: XPrize ends its $30 million race to moon without a winner

Like fellow tech giants Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, Branson has long been a fan of spaceflight. He was inspired by the Ansari XPrize competition that was the catalyst for the very first privately funded manned trip to space, flown in a reusable spacecraft called SpaceShipOne.

Over the course of a decade, Virgin Galactic built and tested the first version of its SpaceShipTwo, called VSS Enterprise, before the 2014 tragedy that killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injured co-pilot Peter Siebold.

Related: SpaceX's latest launch and recovery attempt: We explain it all

The company has been recuperating ever since. Its new SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, made its first gliding test flight in 2016.

Virgin Galactic sells tickets - which cost about $250,000 each - aboard its spaceship. The firm says people in more than 50 countries whose ages range from teens to 90s have already put up the cash. They'll need to complete just three days of training before flying, according to Virgin Galactic's website.

-CNN's Rachel Crane contributed to this report.

Terre Haute
Overcast
56° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 56°
Robinson
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 55°
Indianapolis
Overcast
56° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 56°
Rockville
Overcast
51° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 51°
Casey
Broken Clouds
57° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 57°
Brazil
Overcast
56° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 56°
Marshall
Overcast
56° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 56°
Showers Today!
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Support group aims to prevent suicide among first responders

Image

Monday: Showers, cooler. High: 64

Image

Sunday Evening Forecast

Image

Woman remembers national hero

Image

Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra Concert

Image

Athletes clean up Wabashiki

Image

High speed police chase ends in Vermillion county with gunfire

Image

Farms open for Fall season

Image

Annual Fall-out Ride

Image

'Cruisin' for Cruisers' car show

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 290373

Reported Deaths: 8845
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1436345210
DuPage17471561
Lake16892487
Will13984378
Kane13092326
St. Clair6607190
Winnebago5959149
Madison5698136
Champaign470320
McHenry4581118
Peoria349450
McLean327923
Rock Island299576
Kankakee274177
Unassigned2537244
Sangamon241145
Kendall200925
Tazewell177425
LaSalle171257
DeKalb157938
Macon154444
Coles146430
Williamson140145
Jackson126124
Clinton116920
Boone112523
Adams112310
Randolph93911
Effingham8702
Vermilion7704
Whiteside74320
Ogle7106
Monroe67416
Knox6703
Grundy6695
Henry6665
Morgan66123
Bureau64111
Jefferson61138
Marion5540
Macoupin5447
Christian53911
Franklin5393
Stephenson5236
Union51524
McDonough48015
Logan4641
Crawford4503
Woodford4246
Fayette4183
Cass39811
Livingston3956
Jersey39215
Shelby3904
Montgomery37213
Lee3711
Iroquois36519
Perry35015
Saline3404
Warren3322
Bond3285
Douglas3127
Wayne2805
Jo Daviess2632
Lawrence2562
Carroll2305
Greene22711
Cumberland2175
Hancock2173
Moultrie2143
Jasper2119
Washington2111
Richland2095
Pulaski1801
Fulton1760
Clark1732
White1680
Johnson1560
Clay1540
Wabash1543
Mason1471
Piatt1400
Mercer1395
Pike1281
Menard1251
De Witt1221
Edgar1138
Massac1122
Ford1065
Marshall1040
Alexander811
Scott780
Gallatin732
Hamilton682
Henderson660
Edwards630
Brown610
Calhoun600
Putnam570
Stark552
Schuyler500
Hardin400
Pope291
Out of IL20

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 117450

Reported Deaths: 3580
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21403766
Lake10618323
Elkhart6667111
St. Joseph6576110
Allen6292203
Hamilton4909109
Vanderburgh371931
Hendricks2747123
Monroe262736
Tippecanoe252313
Johnson2338124
Clark223657
Porter217647
Delaware198562
Cass19549
Vigo184327
Madison168975
LaPorte147441
Floyd138963
Warrick134440
Howard131863
Kosciusko124817
Bartholomew117957
Marshall101224
Dubois99119
Boone98646
Grant93334
Hancock93243
Noble92532
Henry80926
Jackson7689
Wayne76814
Morgan72938
Daviess67728
Shelby67729
Dearborn66528
LaGrange63911
Clinton60914
Harrison58724
Putnam58112
Gibson5305
Knox5259
Lawrence51529
Montgomery51121
DeKalb48711
White48614
Decatur45839
Miami4383
Greene42735
Fayette42313
Jasper3992
Steuben3877
Scott38111
Posey3400
Sullivan33812
Jennings31612
Franklin31125
Ripley3038
Clay3025
Orange28824
Whitley2796
Carroll27713
Adams2743
Wabash2718
Washington2691
Starke2677
Wells2654
Spencer2593
Jefferson2483
Huntington2453
Fulton2412
Tipton22822
Perry22113
Randolph2207
Jay1880
Newton17311
Owen1711
Martin1680
Pike1621
Rush1574
Vermillion1300
Fountain1282
Blackford1203
Pulaski1131
Crawford1080
Brown1043
Parke1032
Benton870
Ohio797
Union790
Switzerland690
Warren401
Unassigned0226