(Forbes) On Tuesday, Virgin Galactic hit a milestone – its spaceship, the VSS Unity (aka SpaceShipTwo), achieved rocket-powered, supersonic flight for the second time. The rocket burned for about 31 seconds and the spaceship reached a top speed of Mach 1.9.
Since the last supersonic test, the company has added passenger seats and equipment to the spacecraft, which changed some of the vehicles parameters and shifted its center of gravity. So the test gave Virgin Galactic’s team a better idea of how it will perform when commercial flights begin.
That said, those commercial flights are still quite a long ways off. Although this flight reach an altitude about 20,000 feet higher than its last supersonic flight, it still only reached about 114,500 feet (35 km). That’s just about a third of the way to the Kármán line (100 km) which is the commonly accepted boundary between the atmosphere and space.
“This test flight isn’t hugely important by itself, however it is part of a larger flight test program,” said Bill Ostrove, an analyst at Forecast International. “So each successful flight is another step toward that goal of bringing the SpaceShipTwo towards operational status.”
The test flight also highlights the company’s commitment to space after its first spacecraft crashed in October 2014. The VSS Unity was completed in 2016 and has been continually subjected to tests as the company works towards delivering passengers to space.
In addition, Virgin Galactic spun out a new company, Virgin Orbit, in March 2017. That company will be focused on using Virgin’s space technology to launch small satellites into orbit, and it has already signed deals with a number of companies to provide launch services.