Sir Richard Branson stands on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) prior to Virgin Galactic (SPCE) trading in New York, USA, October 28, 2019.
Richard Branson Virgin Galactic IPO NYSE
Virgin Galactic took a step closer to completing development of its space tourism system on Saturday, successfully flying its first spaceflight in more than two years.
The company’s spacecraft, called VSS Unity, was transported to an altitude of about 44,000 feet by an aircraft carrier called VMS Eve. The plane then released the spacecraft, which fired its rocket engine and accelerated to more than three times the speed of sound.
After performing a slow microgravity backflip at the edge of space, Unity glided back through the atmosphere and landed back on the Spaceport America runway in New Mexico from where it had previously taken off.
“Now in space,” the company tweeted in-flight.
Pilots C.J. Sturckow and Dave Mackay flew with Unity. The pair have previously flown to space, as have fellow Virgin Galactic pilots Michael “Sooch” Masucci and Mark Stucky and astronaut trainer Beth Moses, each of whom was awarded astronaut wings after the company’s first two space flights.
The US officially considers pilots who have flown more than 50 miles to be astronauts.
Virgin Galactic pilots walk up to the company’s SpaceShipTwo Unity spacecraft attached to the Eve jet.
Virgin Galactic’s Unity spacecraft is designed to accommodate up to six passengers along with the two pilots. The company has approximately 600 reservations for future flight tickets, which are sold at prices between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000 each.
The space flight is the first since February 2019 and the third to date. Virgin Galactic conducted two space flight tests from its development facility in the Mojave Desert, California, before moving to its operational base in New Mexico. The company expected to hit some or all of the remaining Federal Aviation Administration milestones with this flight, which would give it a key license necessary to conduct regular space flights.
Unity also transported NASA-funded payloads on this mission, as part of the agency’s Flight Opportunities program.
Shares of Virgin Galactic were up 22% in the past two trading days after the company announced plans for the space flight test, avoiding a potential maintenance issue that threatened to delay the flight.
The space flight is one of four remaining for Virgin Galactic to complete development of its SpaceShipTwo missile system. The second spaceflight test will carry four passengers to test the spacecraft’s cabin, while the third test is scheduled to fly founder Sir Richard Branson.
The company’s flight test program has slowed significantly in recent months. Saturday’s space flight was a repeat of a December attempt cut short by an electromagnetic interference issue, and the company’s promised start of commercial services has been delayed from mid-2020 to early 2022.
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