Virgin Galactic shares breathtaking video of second spaceflight

UCF payload on board for both first, second spaceflights

Virgin Galactic shared new video Tuesday of the company's second spaceflight, which shows the amazing views from the edge of space and the moment WhiteKnightTwo released the rocket-powered plane.

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity climbed to a record altitude of nearly 56 miles during a test flight Friday, marking the second time in 10 weeks Richard Branson's startup has reached space. On board were chief pilot Dave Mackay and co-pilot Michael Masucc, and for the first time, an additional passenger, the company's chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses.

Also on board was an experiment for the University of Central Florida examining how tiny objects collide in low-gravity environments, similar to interactions that formed the early solar system.

UCF PhD candidate Stephanie Jarmak and recent UCF graduate Cody Schultz escorted the Collisions Into Dust Experiment experiment known as COLLIDE to California and were on the ground awaiting their payload's return Friday during VSS Unity's second spaceflight.

VSS Unity took off from a runway in California's Mojave Desert Friday morning and cruised to about 45,000 feet attached to WhiteKnightTwo before it broke away. The newly released video shows the view from the plane as VSS Unity drops and fires up its rocket motor.

"It’s very exhilarating, hearing the countdown, up to release and that moment when the engines start firing and you see the bright orange light in the sky," Jarmak said of watching the flight take place.

The plane then zoomed up to 295,000 feet high-- the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere -- reaching a top speed of Mach 3. Friday's flight was 4.4 miles higher than its historic Dec.13 flight, the first time the spacecraft reached the U.S. Air Force definition of the boundary of space.

It was the highest and fastest flight yet for VSS Unity.

While the spaceship was in low gravity, Moses unbuckled her safety belt and floated free in the cabin, conducting a number of tests.

VSS Unity glided back to Earth, landing on the runway to cheers and applause from staffers and some of Virgin Galactic’s future commercial astronaut customers.

Back on the ground, Jarmak and Schultz were also waiting for COLLIDE to download data that provides crucial information about planet formation and will help future missions interact with surfaces on asteroids and other bodies in space.

Multiple versions of COLLIDE have launched since 1998 on the space shuttle, Blue Origin's New Glenn reusable rocket and now twice with Virgin Galactic's space plane. The experiment is led by UCF physics professor Joshua Colwell and assistant professor Adrienne Dove. 

After VSS Unity touched down, the UCF team tried to catch up on sleep after their 4 a.m. wake up calls and waited to collect the experiment.

"We go get the payload, download the data and cross my fingers that we got something good," Jarmak said.

By Friday afternoon, Jarmak and Shultz were going through the data to find out what could be learned from the flight before getting on a red-eye flight back to Orlando, Florida.