vss unity
The WhiteKnightTwo carries Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, dubbed the VSS Unity, over Mojave, California, U.S. in this photo taken November 1, 2016. Picture taken November 1, 2016. Reuters/Kenneth Brown

Virgin Galactic's founder Sir Richard Branson witnessed the successful free flight of its brand new VSS Unity on Saturday. He considered it as an important test flight as the vehicle has flown fully under its own control. The vehicle cleanly detached from its carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo over the Mojave desert in California. The first vehicle was launched in 2014 that killed one of its pilots.

"VSS Unity has landed. Vehicle and crew are back safe and sound after a successful first glide test flight," Virgin Galactic tweeted.

Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay piloted VSS Unity while Dustin Mosher worked as WhiteKnightTwo's flight test engineer. The flight lasted for 1 hour and 20 minutes while the free flight lasted for 10 minutes. During the free flight, the pilots, mission controller and ground crew collected several data to serve as their reference for the vehicle's improvement.

The company said that the glide flight has not yet reached the rocket-powered phase of the test flight program. However, the data gathered would help in the confirmation of analysing and calculating the performance of the vehicle in a wide variety of real-world flight conditions. VSS Unity has flown light and slow with a maximum speed of approximately Mach 0.6. The vehicle glided home from an altitude of 50,000 feet.

VSS Unity was unveiled on Feb. 2016 and it was built by Virgin Galactic’s sister organization The Spaceship Company. It is a reusable winged spacecraft designed to carry up to eight people including two pilots into space. It is powered by a hybrid rocket motor that has the ability to shut down the vehicle quickly and safely at any point during the flight.

The company aims to take tourists to the edge of the space. The tourist can experience more than 62 miles of a three-hour weightless suborbital flight. They can expect unparalleled views of Earth during the flight. The flight cost US$250,000 (AU$ 335,743). There were more than 600 would-be astronauts who already signed up for the flight. Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher also signed up.