Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane, SpaceShipTwo, went on its first free flight on Friday, performing an unpowered glide over the Mojave Desert. The vehicle, named VSS Unity, was dropped from its carrier plane, WhiteKnightTwo, and flew for 10 minutes on its own before landing successfully at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
The flight comes more than two years after the company’s first SpaceShipTwo experienced a failure mid-flight — killing its pilot and injuring its co-pilot. It marks a major step forward for the company, which has been working to launch sub-orbital flights for several years. Virgin Galactic unveiled SpaceShipTwo earlier this year, and received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration back in August to begin test flights. This was the fifth time that VSS Unity and WhiteKnightTwo have flown together, but this is the first time that it’s been separated from WhiteKnightTwo.
Before the drop test, Richard Branson addressed the crowd, saying that he hoped “to see out here a lot over the next few months.” According to the company, the “data as well as feedback from our two pilots indicate that today’s flight went extremely well,” but also indicated that it will be examining the data that was collected closely. With this week’s success, the company will conduct several additional glide tests before moving on to the next phase of testing, where the rocket engine will be ignited in the air.
Since its accident in 2014, the company has worked to correct the problems that contributed to the breakup of the aircraft, which included design and pilot errors.