Virgin Galactic takes first passenger to space

(Image courtesy: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic takes first passenger to space

The company’s second successful space flight included many “firsts.”

Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane, SpaceShipTwo or “VSS Unity,” made its fifth powered test flight and second space flight late last week with three individuals on board. In addition to pilots Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci, Virgin Galactic’s first non-pilot passenger and the world’s first female commercial spacefarer – Beth Moses – also qualified for commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration. Moses is Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor and will be responsible for preparing future Virgin Galactic flyers for space travel.

The flight was also the first time that a crewmember floated freely in the weightlessness of space without restrains on a commercial space flight. During the flight, Moses completed a cabin evaluation to validate customer experience data previously collected via sensors.

 

(Image courtesy: Virgin Galactic)

 

 

“Beth, [Mike Masucci], and I just enjoyed a pretty amazing flight which was beyond anything any of us has ever experienced. It was thrilling yet smooth and nicely controlled throughout with a view at the top, of the Earth from space, which exceeded all our expectations. I am incredibly proud of my crew and of the amazing teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for providing a vehicle and an operation which means we can fly confidently and safely,” said Chief Pilot and first Scotsman in space, Dave Mackay during a post-flight reception. “For the three of us today this was the fulfillment of lifelong ambitions, but paradoxically is also just the beginning of an adventure which we can’t wait to share with thousands of others.” 

 

(Image courtesy: Virgin Galactic)

 

Beyond the list of “human” firsts, VSS Unity’s hybrid rocket motor propelled the craft higher and faster than before, to an apogee of 295,007 feet at a speed of Mach 3.04.

“Flying the same vehicle safely to space and back twice in a little over two months, while at the same time expanding the flight envelope, is testament to the unique capability we have built up within the Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company organizations,” says Sir Richard Branson, co-founder of Virgin Galactic. “I am immensely proud of everyone involved. Having Beth fly in the cabin today, starting to ensure that our customer journey is as flawless as the spaceship itself, brings a huge sense of anticipation and excitement to all of us here who are looking forward to experiencing space for ourselves. The next few months promise to be the most thrilling yet.”

 

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While Virgin Galactic will continue increasing its flight capabilities throughout the year, VSS Unity had yet to breach Earth’s atmosphere until a crewed flight in December of 2018. Both the December flight and February flight were made from Mojave, California, aboard the Scaled Composites Model 348 WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

 

(Image courtesy: Virgin Galactic)

 

 

After WhiteKnightTwo released SpaceShipTwo at an altitude of 45,000 feet, SpaceShipTwo’s “RocketMotorTwo” engine – a polyamide plastic-fueled design capable of 60,000 pounds-force of thrust – propelled the space tourism craft to suborbital space.

Like the December flight, VSS Unity also carried research payloads for the NASA Flight Opportunities program. VSS Unity was also laden with additional weight to simulated flight conditions with a full passenger contingent.

 

(Image courtesy: Virgin Galactic)

 

The company also announced that it will be moving flight operations to the FAA-licensed Spaceport America in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin in New Mexico sometime this year.

 

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at william.kucinski@sae.org.

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