Virgin Galactic's spaceship lands safely after test flight

Branson's second SpaceShipTwo successfully glides through its first test in California


Virgin Galactic's mothership WhiteKnightTwo

Sir Richard Branson watched on as Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo successfully glided through its first free-flying test, more than two years after a man was killed when the first aircraft crashed.

The SpaceShipTwo, dubbed VSS Unity, landed in Mojave, California, about 10 minutes after it cleanly detached from its carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo, which also returned to the ground safely.

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Virgin Group founder Sir Richard joined Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides and other onlookers to witness the test flight, smiling and clapping as VSS Unity's two pilots manned the vehicle back on to the runway.

After further glide flights, the next step in the group's ongoing mission to make space tourism a reality will be to conduct rocket-powered flights to test the Unity's hybrid motor.

Virgin Spaceship Unity (VSS Unity)

​​Last year, an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Body found a fatal October 2014 crash was caused by a catastrophic structural failure triggered when the co-pilot unlocked the craft's braking system early.

The spaceship broke apart over the Mojave Desert during a powered test flight, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injuring pilot Peter Siebold.

Sir Richard Branson and George Whitesides congratulating pilots

Virgin Galactic has said it will officially launch operations from Spaceport America in New Mexico with paying passengers "once it believes it is safe to do so" and it has received all regulatory approvals.

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