Virgin Galactic plans to carry out the first rocket-powered test flight of its VSS Unity spacecraft from its newly christened Spaceport America facility in New Mexico as early as next week, the company announced. It could be launched as soon as 11 December and would be the first rocket-powered Unity flight since it took a passenger to the edge of space in February 2019.
So far in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic has carried out Unity glide tests on carrier aircraft Eve, but no rocket-powered ones. It was planned to start rocket tests a little earlier between November 19-23, but these dates were pushed back due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The flight team has a number of objectives in mind, “including the customer cabin test elements as well as the assessment of enhanced horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during boost,” Virgin wrote in a press release. The ship will also carry payloads for research, including three from the NASA Flight Opportunities Program following a contract awarded by the US Space Agency.