SANTA FE, New Mexico — Virgin Galactic Rocket operated a manned shuttle from New Mexico to the edge of space for the first time on Saturday, as the organization moves closer to delivering passenger trips to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The VSS Unity exploded its rocket high over the desert in a cloudless atmosphere, hurtling the vehicle and two pilots into orbit. NASASpaceFlight.com provided a live stream of the ship speeding upward and later reported a landing by radar.
Before gliding down into the atmosphere, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity shuttle accelerated to three times the speed of sound and attained an altitude of just over 55 miles (89 kilometers) above sea level.
The trip and landing, according to British billionaire and Virgin Galactic builder Sir Richard Branson, brings the nearly 15-year-old company tantalizingly close to commercial flights for visitors. According to Virgin Galactic, such flights could begin as early as next year.
Branson told The Associated Press soon after the flight landed, “Today was such an amazing jump in the right direction.” “It put a lot of the new systems that the teams had been working on to the test, and they all worked.”
At least two more updated test flights are planned, according to Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier, the next with four mission specialists in the cabin. A flight that would carry Branson to the edge of space is already in the works.
“Today’s flight was sleek, stunning, and comfortable “According to Colglazier. “All of the data we collect on these flights will be analyzed. However, it was breathtaking to watch from the ground and talk with our pilots. Now it’s time for us to do it all over again.”
The flight was used to evaluate improvements to a horizontal stabilizer, other flight controls, and a suite of cabin cameras intended to provide live imagery of the flight to people on the ground, according to Virgin Galactic. In collaboration with NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, the shuttle also carried a scientific payload.
A maintenance analysis of the special carrier plane that flies the six-passenger spacecraft to a high altitude, where it is released to fire its rocket motor and make the final push to orbit, was part of the preparations for the new launch.
Before Saturday’s launch, the first powered flight of the rocket ship from Spaceport America in New Mexico was repeatedly postponed. The spaceship’s rocket failed to fire properly in December 2020 due to computer problems caused by electromagnetic interference. The ship and its two pilots were forced to make an emergency landing rather than soaring into space.
While the stock price of Virgin Galactic rose this week after the announcement of the new result, it was not enough to reverse the company’s losses since its peak in February. Some observers have warned that it could be some time before the firm sees results, owing to the fact that the precise launch of commercial activities is still unknown.
Virgin Galactic is one of a few businesses hoping to benefit from people who are interested in space travel.
In January, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin unveiled a new capsule as part of its trials in order to get the visitor, scientist, and trained astronaut program off the ground. It intends to launch its first crewed flight on July 20, the anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing.
As the rocket engine is shut off and the pilot prepares to reenter the atmosphere and float to a landing, the flights are intended to achieve an altitude of at least 50 miles (80 kilometers).
A feathering mechanism delays and stabilizes the craft when it re-enters the atmosphere on the return flight.
Since Branson and then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, pitched the idea for the site, with Virgin Galactic as the anchor tenant, New Mexico taxpayers have spent over $200 million in the Spaceport America hangar and launch facility near Truth or Consequences.
Richardson watched the flight from the ground and then praised the citizens of the surrounding counties who agreed to a sales tax raise to fund the venture early on.
“It’s finally a fantastic day after all of us — particularly me — taking a lot of heat for a long time,” Richardson said. “However, it has occurred. It’s a success.”