Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, landed from her maiden spaceflight last week, marking the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011 and the first time a crewed vehicle built for commercial passenger service reached space.
The achievement has been recognised by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who announced that early next year they will present pilots Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky and Frederick ‘CJ’ Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington DC.
The accomplishment has also been recognised by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which flew four space science and technology experiments on VSS Unity, making this Virgin Galactic’s first revenue generating flight.
The spaceflight saw VSS Unity dropped by its WhiteKnightTwo mothership, VSS Eve, before a 60 second planned rocket motor burn which propelled the craft to almost three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles.
After a Mach 2.5 supersonic re-entry into the atmosphere, which utilised Unity’s unique ‘feathering’ configuration, Forger and CJ guided the spaceship down to a smooth runway landing at Mojave Air and Space Port.
Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson said: “Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. Today we completed our first revenue generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings.
“Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good. We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos. This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.”
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, said: “What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century’s defining industries. Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine.
“New enterprises are being created which will become hugely valuable, while enabling humanity to better manage some of its greatest future challenges. Today was a remarkable achievement brought about by the skill, dedication and support of our shareholders, staff, customers, partners and many other stakeholders. We extend our congratulations and thanks to each and every one of them.”
Source: Virgin Galactic