Virgin Galactic took a step closer Saturday as they completed their third successful test flight.  This is another phase in the development of its space tourism system, as they completed its first spaceflight in more than two years. 

The company’s space plane, VSS Unity was piloted by veterans C.J. Sturckow and Dave Mackay, according to a press release by Virgin Galactic.  The two have previously flown to space, as well as fellow Virgin Galactic pilots Michael “Sooch” Masucci and Mark Stucky and chief astronaut trainer Beth Moses.  They have all been given astronaut wings following the first to space flights.  The U.S. officially consider pilots who have flown above 80 kilometers to be astronauts.

“It was picture perfect,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier. former Disney executive, told the Verge in a phone interview Saturday after the Unity, Eve and crew were back on the ground.  “We’re goanna go through the data deeply and thoroughly as we always do.” Colglazier called the flight a major step forward for both Virgin Galactic and human spaceflight in New Mexico, which had never hosted a crewed test mission to space until today.

The Unity reached 55.45 miles above earth’s surface.  The VSS Unity was carried into the atmosphere by a larger craft, named VMS Eve, prior to detaching and rocketing into space.  After performing a slow backflip in microgravity at the edge of space,Unity returned through the atmosphere in a glide.  The spacecraft landed back at the runway of Spaceport America, returning to where it had taken off from earlier.   

The U.S. and Virgin Galactic, technically have a different definition of “outer space” than the rest of the world.  The U.S. considers 50 miles above the earth’s surface to be space, but the international line is at 62 miles.  Virgin Galactic flights are missioned to take place in between the two markers.

Saturday’s flight was the first successful from Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico, about 100 miles north of El Paso in the Chihuahuan Desert, and its third to date.  The other two spaceflights were in December 2018 and February 2019, and were launched from its development facility in California’s Mojave Desert, prior to moving to its operational base at Spaceport America.

Virgin Galactic’s founder Sir Richard Branson was in attendance at the spaceport along with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and current Governor Lujan Grisham.  Also, board director Adam Bain was in attendance.  Richardson helped establish the $218.5 million Spaceport America as the company’s base of operations.
The Unity is designed to hold up to six passengers along with the two pilots.  The company has about 600 reservations for tickets on future flights, sold at prices between $200,000 and $250,000 each.

According to Virgin Galactic confirmed on May 10th during its earnings call, that it has a total of four spaceflights planned this year.  The next one is slated for two pilots and four Virgin Galactic employees as passengers, and a third flight is scheduled to have founder Richard Branson on board.  Flight four is intended to be a commercial flight for the Italian Air Force, which should generate $2 million in revenue.

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