Virgin Galactic has successfully completed the first of three test flights before it starts commercial operations and the first ever spaceflight from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve, at an altitude of 13km (44,000ft) and igniting its rocket motor. Unity then reached the edge of space at an altitude of 55 miles (89km) before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.
VSS Unity was flown by CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, while Kelly Latimer and Michael Masucci piloted VMS Eve. CJ, who flew as pilot-in-command, becomes the first person ever to have flown to space from three different US states.
Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic said, “Today’s flight showcased the inherent elegance and safety of our spaceflight system, while marking a major step forward for both Virgin Galactic and human spaceflight in New Mexico.
“I am incredibly proud of our talented team for making the dream of private space travel a reality. We will immediately begin processing the data gained from this successful test flight, and we look forward to sharing news on our next planned milestone.”
The sixth flight test conducted in the last five years, it was also the first to be conducted out of Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic’s future operational home when it begins to transport paying customers into space.
In 2018 a Virgin Galactic test flight operated out of its former base in Mojave Air and Space port became the first manned spaceflight to be launched from the USA since the Space Shuttle in 2011.
The test flight fulfilled several objectives, including testing the spaceship’s upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls and validating electromagnetic interference reductions. The data collected from the test flight will also be used in the final two verification reports to obtain a commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license from the FAA.
Virgin Galactic engineers are now conducting a review of the test data gathered and inspecting the spaceship and mothership before the next test flight is conducted.
Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, said, ‘’I am proud of the team for their hard work and grateful to the people of New Mexico who have been unwavering in their commitment for commercial spaceflight from day one. Their belief and support have made today’s historic achievement possible.”