Virgin Galactic finally completed its third spaceflight and the first-ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico. This made New Mexico the third US state to launch humans into space.
The flight was the first successful test since February 2019. One of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft test flights failed in December 2020 due to an engine malfunction. After that, the company postponed testing for technical reasons.
Its VSS Unity shuttle, designed to carry up to eight people, achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. It reached space at an altitude of 55.45 miles (89 km) before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.
The flight enabled Virgin Galactic to meet several objectives, including 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. Taking advantage of the flight, Virgin Galactic also carried a series of payloads for NASA aboard the spacecraft.
“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,” said Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic. “Space travel is a bold and adventurous endeavor, 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.”
Passing these high-altitude flight tests is crucial if Virgin Galactic is to meet its goal of carrying the first space tourists in 2022.
“Today, we launched the first human spaceflight from that very same place, marking an important milestone for both Virgin Galactic and New Mexico,” said Sir Richard Branson. “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.“