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Second SpaceShipTwo flies free for first time

SpaceShipTwo in flight
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity glides through its first free-flying flight. (Virgin Galactic Photo)

Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, dubbed VSS Unity, successfully glided through its first free-flying test run today. The flight comes more than two years after the first SpaceShipTwo broke up during a rocket-powered test.

The hybrid rocket engine wasn’t switched on for today’s trial in the skies above California’s Mojave Desert. Instead, VSS Unity was set loose by its WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane at a height of tens of thousands of feet, and winged its way back to the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Test pilot Mark “Forger” Stucky and Virgin Galactic’s chief pilot, Dave Mackay, were at the controls in Unity’s cockpit. Mike Masucci and Todd Ericson piloted WhiteKnightTwo, with Dustin Mosher as flight engineer. Virgin Galactic reported that the crew was “safe and sound” after “a successful first glide test flight.”

Parabolic Arc’s Douglas Messier reported that Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson was on hand to watch the flight.

“It’s a happy day to be here,” Branson said in a video captured by Messier before WhiteKnightTwo took off. “We’ve got an exciting year ahead, and this is just the start of it.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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