Successful Spaceflight and Milestones Achieved
Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company, has successfully conducted its first spaceflight in nearly two years. After a period dedicated to safety upgrades, Thursday’s flight marked the fifth time the company reached the boundary of space. It served as the final test before the commencement of commercial operations, which are scheduled to start in late June. The inaugural flight will have members of the Italian Air Force as the first paying customers, signaling a significant milestone for Virgin Galactic’s space tourism ambitions.
Flight Details and Progress
The spaceflight, piloted by a crew of six, including two pilots, took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The spaceplane, named VSS Unity, reached an altitude of 87km (54.2 miles) and experienced a few minutes of weightlessness before gliding back to Earth and landing smoothly. The flight lasted approximately 90 minutes, with the carrier aircraft taking the spaceplane to an altitude of 13,500 meters (44,500 feet) before its release.
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This achievement comes after years of development, setbacks, and safety improvements for Virgin Galactic’s space program. The company faced delays and a tragic accident in 2014, leading to the implementation of stricter safety measures. The Federal Aviation Administration’s investigation resulted in modifications to both the carrier plane and the spaceplane. Supply chain issues and labor shortages also contributed to the delay, extending the timeline beyond initial expectations.
Virgin Galactic’s unique approach sets it apart from other space companies. Instead of vertical-launch rockets, the company employs a carrier aircraft that takes off from a runway. It reaches high altitude and releases a rocket-powered plane, which ascends to space before gliding back to Earth.