Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo returns from its first successful space test flight. (Virgin Galactic)
Virgin Galactic’s suborbital SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Unity, soared to 271,268 feet to become the first crewed flight vehicle built for commercial passenger service to reach space.
The successful SpaceShipTwo test flight marks a major milestone for the Virgin Group, Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit, as the companies attempt to introduce a new generation of commercial space flight vehicles. Virgin Galactic first announced plans to develop a vehicle in September 2004, but years of setbacks and an October 2014 accident delayed their plans.
On Thursday, Dec. 13, the twin-fuselage WhiteKnightTwo airlifted VSS Unity before releasing it into suborbital flight. VSS Unity then used a planned 60-second rocket motor burn to reach a top speed of Mach 2.9 during the flight.
“Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good," said Virgin founder 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."
VSS Unity’s first space test flight featured technology payloads purchased by NASA in an effort to clot valuable data needed to mature the technologies for use on future missions. The payloads included a microgravity multi-phase flow experiment for suborbital testing, telemetric imaging hardware and a vibration isolation platform.
According to Enrico Palermo, president of The Spaceship Company, the group is about a year away from completing the build of its next spaceship.