SPACEPORT AMERICA, N.M. (KRQE) – Inching closer to possible commercial service later this year, Virgin Galactic says its Unity spacecraft completed a successful test flight today at the Spaceport in southern New Mexico. The glide flight took place Wednesday morning, without using its rocket.

The spaceship’s glide flight marks the second time VSS (Virgin Spaceship) Unity has been airborne in New Mexico’s skies this month, nearly two years after Virgin’s fully crewed flight in July 2021. Remarking on Wednesday’s test, the space company called the test, or Unity’s 24th mission, “one of the final steps toward commercial spaceline operations.”

Months of maintenance operations on Virgin’s other aircraft have lead up to Wednesday’s glide flight. In October 2021, Virgin Galactic took its spaceship-carrying VMS (Virgin Mothership) Eve into a 16 month maintenance program that finished in February 2023.

The VMS Eve is a twin-fuselage aircraft built to haul the VSS Unity to nearly 50,000 feet. At that elevation, the aircraft releases the spaceship before the spaceship ignites a rocket, blasting pilots and crew into the edge of space.

On February 27, the VMS returned to New Mexico. Since then, New Mexico crews have been working on operations including attaching the Unity spaceship to the VMS Eve. Crews overhauled the spacecraft release system over the last year among other changes.

Wednesday morning’s test flight in New Mexico lasted nearly one hour with no reported issues. Data from the company indicates the spaceship was released from an altitude of 47,000 feet.

The test was mostly aimed at data collection. Virgin says it will in part “evaluate the performance of the spaceship in the glide phase of flight” as crews also made modifications to the spacecraft.

Over the next several weeks, Virgin says it will make a determination as to if the spacecraft can be cleared to return to spaceflight. If all goes according to plan, Virgin says its next planning for a rocket-powered spaceflight with two pilots and four “mission specialists” in the cabin.

The company is still targeting the second quarter of 2023 for commercial operations. Quarter three would begin in July.

The video featured in this post is courtesy of Virgin Galactic.