Virgin achieves spaceflight firsts


Virgin Galactic’s Unity spacecraft has conducted its fifth powered test flight and the second space flight of its test flight program.

During the test flight Unity reached its highest speed and altitude to date, Mach 3.04 to an apogee of 295,007ft and for the first time carried a third crew member on board, along with research payloads from the NASA Flight Opportunities program.

Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and co-pilot Michael “Sooch” Masucci become commercial astronauts and the 569th and 570th humans in space. Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor, flew as the third crew member in the first live evaluation of cabin dynamics.

During several minutes of weightlessness Moses completed a number of cabin evaluation tests to validate data previously collected via sensors and live test of physical elements of the cabin interior.

The flight was the first time that a non-pilot flew on board a commercial spaceship to space and  the first time that a crew member floated freely without restraints in weightlessness in space onboard a commercial spaceship.

The test flight was also the first time that three people flew to space on a commercial spaceship, and Dave Mackay became the first Scottish-born astronaut.

Speaking after the test flight Mackay said, “It was thrilling yet smooth and nicely controlled throughout with a view at the top of the Earth from space which exceeded all our expectations.”

Founder of Virgin Galactic Richard Branson said, “Flying the same vehicle safely to space and back twice in a little over two months, while at the same time expanding the flight envelope, is testament to the unique capability we have built up within the Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company organizations.”

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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