Virgin Galactic Holdings has completed its third spaceflight and the first ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico.
The flight, which took place on Saturday, saw New Mexico become the third US state to launch humans into space. VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve, and reached space, at an altitude of 55.45 miles before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.
On VSS Unity’s flight deck were CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, while Kelly Latimer and Michael Masucci piloted VMS Eve. CJ, who flew as pilot-in-command, becomes the first person ever to have flown to space from three different states. The crew experienced extraordinary views of the bright, blue-rimmed curvature of the earth against the blackness of space with New Mexico’s White Sands National Park sparkling brilliantly below. The experience gives Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronaut customers a glimpse of what lies ahead.
Dream of private space travel becoming “a reality”
Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Today’s flight showcased the inherent elegance and safety of our spaceflight system, while marking a major step forward for both Virgin Galactic and human spaceflight in New Mexico. Space travel is a bold and adventurous endeavour, and I am incredibly proud of our talented team for making the dream of private space travel a reality. We will immediately begin processing the data gained from this successful test flight, and we look forward to sharing news on our next planned milestone.”
Virgin Galactic fulfilled a number of test objectives during the flight, including:
- Carried revenue-generating scientific research experiments as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program
- Collected data to be used for the final two verification reports that are required as part of the current FAA commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license.
- Tested the spaceship’s upgraded horizontal stabilisers and flight controls and validated EMI reductions.
Following the flight, and in line with normal procedures, Virgin Galactic will conduct a review of all test data gathered and thoroughly inspect both the spaceship and mothership. Once the team confirms the results, Virgin Galactic plans to proceed to the next flight test milestone.
New Mexico state flag honoured state’s support for commercial spaceflight
To celebrate the first human spaceflight from New Mexico, the Zia Sun Symbol of New Mexico’s state flag was placed prominently on the exterior of the Spaceship. In addition, the ship flew with green chilli seeds, which are synonymous with the state’s rich agricultural and culinary history.
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson said: “Fifteen years ago, New Mexico embarked on a journey to create the world’s first commercial spaceport. Today, we launched the first human spaceflight from that very same place, marking an important milestone for both Virgin Galactic and New Mexico. I am proud of the team for their hard work and grateful to the people of New Mexico who have been unwavering in their commitment for commercial spaceflight from day one. Their belief and support have made today’s historic achievement possible.”
Governor Lujan Grisham added: “After so many years and so much hard work, New Mexico has finally reached the stars. Our state’s scientific legacy has been honoured by this important achievement, one that took guts and faith and an unwavering belief in what New Mexico can achieve – and indeed is destined to achieve. I can’t wait to see what comes next. We are on the cutting edge, the forefront of innovation, and I plan to do everything in my power to keep us there, taking full advantage of our robust economic and scientific potential. On behalf of proud New Mexicans everywhere, I’m incredibly grateful to so many dedicated and visionary collaborators in this effort, not least Sir Richard Branson and former Governor Bill Richardson, the entire Virgin Galactic team and Spaceport team who made possible this long-awaited day.”
The spaceflight was conducted under strict COVID-19 protocols.