A crewed spaceship built to carry private passengers has reached space – and generated its first revenue – for the first time.
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity landed safely in the Mojave Desert in California after the historic flight, which also marked the aircraft’s fourth powered test flight.
The achievement has been recognised by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who will present pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington DC in 2019.
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program flew four space science and technology experiments on VSS Unity, making this Virgin Galactic’s first revenue generating flight.
According to Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight 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.
After a Mach 2.5 supersonic re-entry into the atmosphere, which utilised Unity’s “feathering” configuration, Forger and CJ guided the spaceship down to a runway landing.
Commenting from the flight line Richard Branson said: “Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. 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.”
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company,added: “What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century’s defining industries. Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine.”