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Virgin Galactic readies space tourism trips with first Spaceport America flight

Virgin Galactic has taken an important step toward the launch of its space tourism service after successfully completing the first test flight from Spaceport America — the soon-to-be starting point for paying passengers’ trip of a lifetime.

The team previously launched test flights from Mojave, California, before relocating to its new home in New Mexico in February 2020.

The SpaceShipTwo passenger craft, also known as VSS Unity, made its debut outing from Spaceport America with VMS Eve, the aircraft designed to carry Unity on the first part of its journey toward space during the tourism trips. Together, the vehicles climbed to an altitude of 15,240 meters (50,000 feet) before Eve released Unity, allowing it to fly freely for the first time in New Mexico airspace.

“The spaceship achieved a glide speed of Mach 0.70 and completed multiple test points, before touching back down smoothly for a runway landing at Spaceport America,” the team wrote in a piece describing the flight.

A video (below) shows parts of the test, including the moment Eve releases Unity, and the passenger craft’s landing back at Spaceport America.

The glide flight offered the first opportunity to test all of the components required to fly Eve and Unity in glide configuration, from its new home base and in new airspace, Virgin Galactic said.

During the outing, Unity pilots Dave Mackay and C.J. Sturckow successfully executed a variety of maneuvers that enabled it to gather data regarding the spacecraft’s performance and handling qualities. The flight test also allowed the pilots and ground team to continue familiarization with the airspace around Spaceport America, as well as the chance to conduct further pilot training.

Competing with the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic has an eye on launching its $250,000-a-seat space tourism service in the coming months, though it’s yet to set a firm date for the maiden trip. The next stage of testing will involve additional rocket-powered flights to confirm Unity’s readiness for rides to the edge of space.

The experience will take passengers toward the generally agreed boundary of where space begins, around 62 miles up, with stunning views and a brief period of weightlessness all part of the package.

We’ve reached out to Virgin Galactic for information on when it hopes to launch its first commercial space tourism flight and will update this article when we hear back.

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Trevor Mogg
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