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Virgin Galactic completes rocket-powered test flight after months of delays

Virgin Galactic’s private spaceflight program is back on track. As promised, the company completed a rocket-powered test flight on May 22nd that saw VSS Unity, its two pilots and NASA experiments reach space. It’s the first human spaceflight out of Virgin’s New Mexico-based Spaceport America.

The flight was originally slated for December 2020, but failed when a computer glitch halted ignition of the rocket motor. Virgin initially delayed the flight to February, but pushed it back again due to technical checks. This latest mission tested the solution to that issue in addition to its originally intended objectives, including data collection for the last two reports Virgin needs for the FAA’s commercial reusable spacecraft license.

The success arguably comes too late — Virgin has delayed its first space tourism flights to 2022. That could be painful for a company that continues to bleed cash while it waits for its first trips with paying passengers. The test lets Virgin overcome a significant hurdle, though, and it can focus on its next test flight (timing yet to come) instead of dwelling on the past.

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