Virgin Galactic’s new spaceship made a successful test flight over the weekend, a key step in returning to space after a deadly crash of its predecessor in 2014.
The new craft, dubbed VSS Unity, was lifted by a carrier airplane from the Mojave Air & Space Port in California and was able to return to Earth under its own power. A previous version of the craft disintegrated over California’s Mojave Desert, in October, 2014, killing one of its co-pilots.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) December 3, 2016
SpaceShipTwo is a commercial version of SpaceShipOne, the first private spacecraft to reach the edge of space in 2004. The company’s goal is to take tourists to the edge of space, more than 62 miles above Earth.
Despite a ticket price tag of $250,000, more than 600 would-be astronauts have bought tickets, including Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher.
Virgin Galactic was founded by billionaire Richard Branson and aerospace engineer Burt Rutan. The company has been competing with other companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada to develop the first fully reusable space ship. Bezos’ company successfully landed the first reusable rocket after officially going to space last November, and repeated the landing four times.
Reusable space technology is considered a major advance because it has the potential to significantly lower the costs of getting into orbit. Most of the cost is driven not by fuel but rocket components. America’s Space Shuttle was only technically reusable because its giant fuel tank was discarded after each launch, and its side boosters were parachuted into corrosive salt water every flight, which required them to be extensively refurbished after use, making the Space Shuttle exceedingly expensive.
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