Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Reaches Space

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity suborbital spaceliner has reached a maximum altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) during a rocket-powered test flight over California’s Mojave Desert on December 13, 2018.

Representative of Virgin Galactic tweeted the news saying, “SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space,” 

The spaceplane was propelled into space at almost three times the speed of sound allowing the pilots, Mark Stucky and Frederick CJ Sturckow, to see the curvature of the earth and experience the weightlessness from the lack of earth’s gravity before landing.

This was the fourth rocket-powered test mission of VSS Unity, which Virgin Galactic officially unveiled in February 2016. The other three tests took place in April, May and July 2018. Once commercial, VSS Unity will will carry passengers on 90 minute trips to suborbital space, costing approximately $250,000 per ticket.

The company also hopes to use the space vehicles for research purposes, with four NASA-sponsored research payloads on this particular test flight. It is thought the research will be conducted on how dust behaves on planetary surfaces, how liquids and gases interact in microgravity, and how microgravity affects plant growth.

Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson, said in a statement following the missions’ success, “We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and SpaceShipTwo fly still faster and higher towards her and our goal of creating thousands of private astronauts from every corner of the globe.”