What goes up must come down, and preferably when it does it will do so safely -- especially when there's human cargo on board.
Richard Branson's space tourism venture Virgin Galactic announced that the first airborne test of its spacecraft re-entry system was completed successfully in the Mojave Desert, California on Monday.
The test took place during VSS Unity's fourth glide flight and saw the bespoke "feather" system designed to slow the craft down and help it land back on Earth as gently as possible put through its paces in the air for the first time. The feather system that took place this week was only tested at a single altitude, but the system will continue to be evaluated in different conditions as the VSS Unity completes further tests at differing altitudes in the coming months.
The news should reassure hopeful future space tourists everywhere, who now know their well-earned and eye-wateringly expensive vacation might not be the last thing they ever do. In 2014, Virgin Galactic pilot Michael Alsbury was killed when a rocket powering a test flight of the VSS Enterprise broke apart in midair, causing the vessel to crash.
The crash was a major setback for the pioneering company, but it is still pushing ahead with the project.
"Coming back to Earth safely poses just as much of a technical challenge as getting to space in the first place," said Virgin Galactic in a blog post. "Our vehicle and crew are getting ready for the next steps in the test program, and we look forward to seeing the vehicle in flight once again."