Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Returns to Space

Commercial space venture reaches greater speeds and heights.

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic has completed its fifth test flight in space.Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic has achieved another successful flight, bringing more people to greater speeds and heights in space. Chief pilot Dave Mackay and copilot Michael "Sooch" Masucci launched VSS Unity, also known as SpaceShipTwo, from WhiteKnightTwo, the quadjet cargo airplane that carried the spaceship on February 22 from the Mojave Air & Space Port in southern California. VSS Unity climbed to 295,000 feet and Mach 3.04, higher and faster than the spaceship has flown before.

For the first time, the small space vehicle also brought a third crewmember on board, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, who became the first woman to fly in a commercial space ship. Moses’s mission on the flight was to evaluate the cabin interior, an evaluation that included several minutes of weightlessness. After returning to Mojave, Moses described the flight as “intense and beautiful and indescribable.”

Several other commercial space flying firsts were part of the February 22 flight. It was the first commercial spaceflight carrying a non-pilot crew member, more than two people and a crewmember flying without restraints. Additionally, Dave Mackay became the first Scottish-born astronaut, and he was celebrated by a kilted piper as the crew exited VSS Unity.

Research and technology payloads from NASA's Flight Opportunities program were also a part of the test flight, making it Virgin Galactic's second revenue generating flight. This was Virgin Galactic's fifth spaceflight and the second one in less than three months.

“Today just heightens the huge sense of anticipation and excitement for all of us who are looking forward to experiencing space for ourselves,” said Virgin Galactic’s founder Richard Branson. “The next few months promise to be the most thrilling yet.”