Newsday, Virgin Galactic rockets to the edge of space

Newsday, Virgin Galactic rockets to the edge of space

Richard Branson center celebrates with pilots Rick "CJ" Sturckow (L), and Mark "Forger" Stucky (R), after Virgin Galactic's tourism spaceship climbed more than 50 miles high above California's Mojave Desert on December 13, 2018.

For the past few hours, Virgin Galactic has posted numerous photos from today's landmark mission on various social media platforms, including a photo of Mark Stucky and CJ Sturckow, the two crew members who piloted the mission.

SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, took off in the early morning sunshine at the Mojave test centre in California on Thursday in front of hundreds of employees and their family members. The pilots fired up the rocket for 30 seconds, keeping the nose pointed up, and reached Mach 1.87 before coasting to an altitude of 84,271 feet and gliding back to a landing. It reached a top speed of 2.9 times the speed of sound.

"If we have a very good day, we could potentially have the first space flight into space of Virgin Galactic, so that would be a big milestone from our personal company and then on a national level, I think this would be the first human spaceflight from American soil into space since the retirement of the USA space shuttle", stated George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic.

Thursday's test flight carried two pilots, four NASA research payloads, and a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in passenger.

The successful flight is significant progress toward the start of commercial flights that Virgin Galactic promised more than a decade ago.

"But let's not forget that space is also hard and we daily recognise the commitment and sacrifice that has been so consistently shown by our awesome Mojave family".

Back in 2008, Virgin Galactic said that it will be offering sub-orbital tourist flights within 18 months but has, since then, been plagued by delays and a fatal crash that took place in 2014.

The VSS Unity took off the Mojave Desert early on Thursday
Image The VSS Unity took off the Mojave Desert early on Thursday

So the company went to work on updating the design, ultimately rolling out the ship flown Thursday, which goes by the name VSS Unity. It will be the first pair of wings awarded to VSS Unity's pilot in command, Mark "Forger" Stucky, a former Marine and test pilot for NASA and the US Air Force. It returned safely to Earth after the flight.

Branson has said he wants to be one of the first on board.

Branson confirmed that he still planned to be on the first commercial flight of SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America.

That's different than a long-held view that the boundary is at 100 kilometres. but CEO George Whitesides noted that recent research favours the lower altitude. Branson plans to be the first passenger aboard VSS Unity.

Virgin's latest flight test comes four years after the original SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight that killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot, dealing a major setback to Virgin Galactic, a US offshoot of the London-based Virgin Group.

Mr Branson greeted the two pilots after the test, declaring: "Space is Virgin territory!"

The company says roughly 600 people have reserved tickets costing between $200,000 and $250,000.

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