06:45 GMT19 January 2021
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    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - An airplane designed to carry civilian passengers into outer space completed its first rocket-powered test flight, reaching a speed of more one-and-a-half times the speed of sound before gliding to a safe landing in California’s Mojave desert, the manufacturer Virgin Galactic said in a statement on Thursday.

    "Today VSS Unity completed her first powered flight," Virgin Galactic said via Twitter. "Touch down. Congratulations Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky and Dave Mackay for a great milestone test flight."

    Virgin Galactic explained that the two-member crew piloted the space plane in Thursday's test, firing its rocket engines after being carried aloft and turned loose by a mother aircraft.

    ​​Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson later tweeted that Unity reached Mach 1.6, more than one-and-a-half times the speed of sound before landing. The flight lasted slightly more than one hour after the mother plane, with Unity attached, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port.

    Virgin Galactic has announced plans build a fleet of similar planes and charge passengers $250,000 for sub-orbital flights into outer space.

    Prior to Thursday’s flight, the Unity had completed seven test flights in which the plane was released from the mother aircraft and glided to Earth without using its engines — much like the former US Space Shuttle.

    An earlier version of the space plane named Enterprise suffered a fatal crash in October 2014, which was attributed to pilot error, according to published reports.


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