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Virgin Galactic closing in on commercial space serviceVirgin Galactic closing in on commercial space service

Virgin Galactic’s June 25 glide test kept SpaceShipTwo Unity on track toward welcoming paying customers aboard, and was the second test flight from the spaceport where those flights will launch.

The company founded by billionaire Richard Branson put Unity in space before, including a 2019 flight with the first passenger, Beth Moses, one of the company’s astronaut instructors. The company also moved its test program from Mojave, California, to its permanent home, Spaceport America in New Mexico, where the June 25 glide test was launched.

Pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Michael “Sooch” Masucci, both veterans of Unity space shots, piloted the high-speed glide flight to a top speed of Mach 0.85 following release from the VMS Eve mothership at 51,000 feet. The pair executed a test profile including various maneuvers to validate performance and handling qualities with new data and improve aerodynamic modeling. While much of the profile was similar to past flights, COVID-19 forced the company to adapt, implementing additional safety procedures including face masks for all personnel.

(Another Branson company, Virgin Orbit, which aims to launch commercial satellites, redirected some of its energy and effort to building medical ventilators in April.)

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in a news release that the June 25 test flight sets the stage for rocket-powered space shots from Spaceport America.

“I am thrilled with the team’s hard work to complete today’s test flight successfully,” Whitesides said. “It was an important test that, pending data review, means we can now start preparing the vehicles for powered flight. Our focus for this year remains unchanged on ensuring the vehicles and our operations are prepared for long-term, regular commercial spaceflight service.”

SpaceShipTwo pilots Michael 'Sooch' Masucci and Mark 'Forger' Stucky. Photo courtesy of Virgin Galactic.
Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web
Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: US Travel

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