Virgin Galactic’s spaceship VSS Unity landed in the desert of New Mexico on Friday, marking its first glide flight from Spaceport America as the company moves toward commercial operations.
The company announced the flight on social media and shared pictures of the craft on the runway and stationed crew members far and wide around the special carrier aircraft that carried the small spacecraft to altitude.
After years of development and testing at Mojave Air & Space Port in Mojave, California, Virgin Galactic is close to starting actual operations at its futuristic terminal and hangar in southern New Mexico. The company has not previously set a date for commercial flights but says it is expected to do so in 2020.
Virgin Galactic requires lower access to space to pay customers on the supersonic thrill ride and a smaller number of test flights before experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness and a down-to-earth view. Suborbital flights will reach an altitude of at least 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) before the spacecraft takes off.
The company considered Friday’s flight a major achievement that has been in the works since moving the spaceship and carrier plane to New Mexico in February.
The flight provided the first opportunity to test all the components needed to fly a carrier aircraft and spacecraft in a glide configuration from its new home base. Officials will now review the data collected during practice so that they can prepare for the next test flight.
The spacecraft Mach reached a spectacular speed of 0.70 as the pilots performed a series of maneuvers to check handling and aerodynamics and become more familiar with New Mexico airspace.
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, congratulated his team on hitting the milestone, especially during such a challenging time.
He said that I am grateful for the commitment displayed by all those involved, helping not only to support relief efforts in both New Mexico and California, but also for the dedication and creativity that have given us our goal of a commercial launch Will allow to continue safely. said.
While many workers are working remotely during the epidemic, members of the Virgin Galactic team are helping with the relief efforts. He has donated food, masks, gloves and other medical supplies to communities and hospitals in New Mexico and California.
The company has also donated more than $ 60,000 to New Mexico and is working on developing an oxygen hood that could potentially help COVID-19 patients.
“We’re following here like an all-hands-on-deck strategy, where we’re really trying to do wherever we can to help,” Whiteside said.
Virgin Galactic went public on the New York Stock Exchange last fall. Company officials are preparing to release their first quarter results on Tuesday.
Since the successful test flight into space in December 2018, more than 600 customers around the world have reduced deposits for flights, and about 8,000 reservations of interest have been made. Company officials expect the interest to exceed the company’s capacity for flights for the next few years.
The starting seats sold for $ 250,000. Those who wish to file interest online are paying a fully refundable deposit of $ 1,000.