Virgin Galactic has gone back to Space Port America in New Mexico to run tests on its "White Knight Two" carrier craft on Wednesday.
This is the first time the plane has returned since the October 31st 2014 incident wherein the experimental space craft VSS Enterprise suffered a in-flight break-up after it was released by its mother ship, a White Knight Two aircraft named "VMS Eve".
The experimental craft was supposed to fire its new rocket hybrid engine to achieve independent flight, but, instead, it violently broke apart. Co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed on the crash, while pilot Peter Siebold survived, suffering serious injuries. An investigation has indicated that the incident was caused by pilot error and by the plane's feathering system, which caused its air breaking device upon descent to be deployed too early.
Virgin Galactic seeks to prevent a recurrence. Newer spaceships have been modified physically, including changes in the deployment of the feathering system.
"All the way around, we're confident we're not going to have the same situation occurring," said executive vice president of spaceport and development program for Virgin Galactic, Jonathan Firth.
The training exercises being conducted on the White Knight Two would reflect what happened in October of 2014, but company officials have pointed out that the tests are on a revised version and newer safety protocols are being met.
"It's much more rigorous this time -- better coordinated with the local authorities -- and takes it to the next level," senior vice president for operations, Michael Moses said.
The White Knight Two conducted a take-off and altitude climb that would be similar to what would happen when the craft would be taking on commercial passengers. It flew to a height of 35,000 feet.
The plane was also tested on "touch and go" landings, which is when the craft lands for a short period and then immediately take off again.
After tests end this week, the carrier plane will fly back to Mojave, where the actual space craft it will carry is being developed, once rockets are installed on the space plane and ground tests prove positive. Then, White Knight Two will test taking off and landing while carrying the space craft.
It will, then, progress to actually being released into the atmosphere. Initially, the space craft will just conduct glide and land tests, but it will eventually proceed to it achieving launch and reaching sub-orbital space.