Virgin Galactic's new spaceship climbed at supersonic speed over California's Mojave Desert on Thursday, in the company's first powered flight since the fatal crash of its original rocketship in 2014.
The flight of VSS Unity was a major step forward according to Virgin Galactic, which plans to carry tourists on suborbital hops into the lower reaches of space. From there they can see the Earth far below and the stars beyond.
Virgin Galactic said the milestone marked the start of the final portion of Unity's flight test program, which began after a 2014 test-flight crash of its predecessor, VSS Enterprise. The crash killed one of its two pilots in a major setback for the project.
In previous test flights, Unity either remained attached to Virgin mothership Eve, the specially designed jet that carries it into space, or was released to glide back to the ground without lighting its engine.