Two years after the fatal crash of the VSS Enterprise, Virgin Galactic announced that it had successfully tested its successor, the VSS Unity, which piggybacked on its launch vehicle, the VMS Eve, into the outer reaches of the Earth's atmosphere.
Although the VSS Unity remained attached to its SpaceShipTwo-style launch vehicle for the entirety of its four hour flight above the Mojave desert, the company insisted that the test was a success and that the abundance of caution was warranted — after all, the VSS Enterprise crash was caused by a cascade of problems, some of which were determined to be structural, but others which were attributed to pilot error.
The data Virgin Galactic will collect from both vehicles will demonstrate how well each of them dealt with the rigors of near-stratospheric flight, doubling the amount of information the company's manufacturing division can analyze. The aircraft not only marks Virgin Galactic's reentry into the space-tourism race, but also the first manufactured solely by the company.
Virgin Galactic plans to test the VSS Unity's ability to fly independently of its launch vehicle early in 2017.