It is harder to learn to fly a second time. Virgin Galactic, the private spaceflight firm headed by billionaire Richard Branson, lost its first SpaceShipTwo in a pilot-caused crashed in 2014, setting back dreams of passenger spaceflight. The new SpaceShipTwo, named VSS Unity (and not SpaceShipThree), was unveiled in February. Today, slung beneath the wing of its WhiteKnightTwo mothership Eve, Unity took to the sky for its second-ever flight.
The mothership is an essential part of Virgin Galactic’s space program. Carried aloft under the mothership’s wing, the smaller, space-bound craft can just focus on rocketing beyond the atmosphere and then gliding back to Earth. Today, Virgin Galactic was set to test Unity’s ability to glide, but high, gusty winds over the Mojave scratched that plan, and Unity remained attached to Eve throughout the flight.
There is still a long road to space ahead for the craft. After glide tests, it will need to demonstrate that it can rocket itself into the void, and then safely return to Earth. And it will need to demonstrate this many times, for a class of customers paying $250,000 apiece for a shot at 4 to 6 minutes beyond the bounds of the Earth.
Still, it’s good to see progress. Much of Virgin Galactic’s enterprise after the crash has continued in a state of weird limbo, like a harbor without any ships.