Virgin Galactic has completed its third space flight VSS Unity


VSS Unity launches its rocket engine shortly after launching its third space flight on May 22, 2021.

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic took a step closer to completing the development of its space tourism system on Saturday, successfully flying its first space flight in more than two years.

The company’s spaceship, called the VSS Unity, carried a carrier called the VMS Eve at an altitude of about 44,000 feet. The plane then released a spacecraft that fired its rocket engine and accelerated to more than three times the speed of sound.

After performing a slow return in microgravity at the edge of space – reaching an altitude of 89.2 kilometers or about 293,000 feet – Unity slid through the atmosphere. The spacecraft landed on the runway of the spaceport America in New Mexico, from which it took off earlier.

“It was flawless,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier told CNBC about the flight.

Pilots CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay flew Unity. The pair had previously flown into space, as did fellow Virgin Galactic pilots Michael “Sooch” Masucci and Mark Stucky and astronaut head coach Beth Moses, who got each wing of the astronaut after the first two space flights.

The United States officially considers pilots who have flown over 80 kilometers to be astronauts.

Virgin Galactic pilots walk to the company’s SpaceShipTwo Unity spacecraft, attached to the Eve jet.

Virgin Galactic

The Virgin Galactic spacecraft is designed to accommodate up to six passengers along with two pilots. The company has about 600 ticket reservations for future flights, which sell for between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000.

The space flight is the first in the company since February 2019, the first in New Mexico and the third until today. Virgin Galactic conducted two space flight tests from its development facility in California’s Mojave Desert, before moving to its operational base on the spaceport of America.

Founder of Virgin Galactic Sir Richard Branson personally attended the spaceport to watch the flight. He was accompanied by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson – who helped establish $ 218.5 million in Space Space America as the company’s business base – and current Governor Lujan Grisham.

Board director Adam Bain, who helped the Virgin Galactic public attend President Chamath Palihapitiya, was also at Spaceport America to see the flight. Palihapitiya was not present, but praised the company’s “relentless commitment” in a statement to CNBC.

“I congratulate the entire Virgin Galactic team on crossing another important milestone,” Palihapitiya said.

The company has two remaining milestones of the Federal Aviation Administration that need to be cleared to obtain a key license to operate scheduled space flights. Colglazier said the data collected on the flight “looks solid” and will be sent to the FAA soon.

“We look forward to having the opportunity to review the data,” Colglazier said.

Unity also carried three payloads of NASA-funded research under the Flight Opportunities program. Colglazier noted that the charges generated revenue for the company, which expects to disclose the total amount during its second quarterly financial report.

Shares of Virgin Galactic rose 22% in the past two trading days the company has announced plans to test space flights, avoiding a possible maintenance problem that threatened to delay the flight.

The space flight is one of four remaining for Virgin Galactic to complete the development of its SpaceShipTwo rocket system. The second test of space flights will carry four passengers to test the cabin of the spacecraft, while the third test will plan to fly the founder Sir Richard Branson.

The VSS Unity floats in microgravity on the edge of space during its third space flight on May 22, 2021.

Virgin Galactic

The company’s test program has been significantly delayed over the past few months. Saturday’s space flight was a continuation of the December attempt, which was interrupted due to problems with electromagnetic interference, and the promised start of the company’s commercial service was moved from the middle of 2020 to the beginning of 2022.

Colglazier said Virgin Galactic feels “great about the solutions we’ve made to reduce the problem of electromagnetic interference,” and the new digital flight controller that was recently added worked well – another “framework for the company’s priorities with this flight,” he said.

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