SpaceShipTwo gets one last flight test for 2016

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity glides above California’s Mojave Desert. (Virgin Galactic Photo)

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo craft, VSS Unity, took its second free-flying test run today, closing off a rebuilding year for the space venture.

At the start of the year, the company was still finishing up work on its second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, incorporating the lessons learned from the breakup of the first SpaceShipTwo in October 2014.

That accident occurred during a rocket-powered test, killing co-pilot Mike Alsbury and severely injuring pilot Pete Siebold. Investigators blamed pilot error as well as a host of other contributing factors.

VSS Unity rolled out this February amid a burst of Virgin-style hoopla, and since then the SpaceShipTwo team has been conducting a low-profile series of tests. The 27-foot-wide plane was released from its WhiteKnightTwo mothership for its first unpowered glide flight on Dec. 3.

Today’s flight from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port followed a similar profile, with the aim of checking the craft’s aerodynamics under a variety of conditions. Virgin Galactic’s Dave Mackay and Mark Stucky repeated their roles as SpaceShipTwo’s pilots.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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