Virgin Galactic Reaches Space

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Image: Virgin Galactic

Image: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, completed its first successful trip to space on Thursday morning. As shown in the video below, Unity was initially carried to 43,000 feet by WhiteKnightTwo, an aircraft specifically designed to ferry the spacecraft to launch altitude. After release, Unity reached speeds of up to Mach 2.9 and attained an altitude of 271,268 feet (51.4 miles/82.7km) on a 60-second rocket motor burn, putting it just above the 50-mile boundary defined by NASA. The first SpaceShipTwo model, VSS Enterprise, crashed in 2014, killing one of the two pilots onboard.

Thursday’s flight was to fourth powered test mission for Unity. The FAA announced that pilots Mark Stucky and C.J Sturckow will be receiving FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings. “Commercial space has great potential for American economic and innovative leadership,” said FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell after the flight. “The FAA is committed to helping ensure commercial space transportation grows safely.” Also onboard the vehicle were four NASA-funded technology experiments, making this the first Virgin Galactic flight to generate revenue. Future goals for the company include providing commercial spaceflights for paying passengers.

“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space,” said Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson. “We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos.”