aking to the skies above the Mojave desert, Virgin Galactic conducted its fourth powered test flight and first space flight of it’s commercial SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity.
Which is the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011, but the very first time that a manned vehicle built for commercial, passenger services, has reached space.
The historic achievement has been recognised by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who will be presenting early this year, pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow with Commercial Astronaut wings at a ceremony in Washington DC. Frederick “CJ” will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings.
The spaceflight, which was witnessed by a large crowd, saw a 60-second planned rocket motor burn which propelled VSS Unity to almost three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles.
As Unity coasted upwards through the black sky into space, Virgin Galactic Mission Control confirmed the news and congratulated the two pilots: “Unity Welcome to Space”.
After a Mach 2.5 supersonic re-entry into the atmosphere, which utilised Unity’s unique “feathering” configuration Forger and CJ guided the spaceship down to a smooth runway landing and an emotional homecoming welcome.
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Commenting from the flight line Richard Branson said: “Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally. Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder. We started Virgin nearly 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge. Today, as I stood among a truly remarkable group of people with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled. It was an indescribable feeling: joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come.
“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. Today we completed our first revenue-generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings. Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good. 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. This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.”