Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity reached the edge of space Thursday.
It marked the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011 and the very first time that a crewed vehicle built for commercial, passenger service, has reached space.
The flight was recognized 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. CJ, as a four-time Space Shuttle pilot, will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings.
There was a 60 second planned rocket motor burn which propelled VSS Unity 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 utilized Unity’s unique “feathering” configuration, Forger and CJ guided the spaceship down to a smooth runway landing
“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached Space,” Virgin CEO Richard Branson said. “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.”