Skip to main content

Virgin Galactic spaceplane makes it to boundary of space on third test flight

VSS Unity in space over New Mexico
VSS Unity in space over New Mexico Virgin Galactic

After a few stumbles, Virgin Galactic has succeeded in its third test flight of its new spaceplane, which will be available for space tourism flights in the future.

The VSS Unity, one of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo models, launched from Spaceport American in New Mexico on Saturday, May 22. VSS Unity is carried to altitude by a mothership, VMS Eve, from which it was released and hit a speed of Mach 3. Piloted by CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, Unity reached an altitude of 55.45 miles, then glided down back to Earth and landed on a runaway at Spaceport America.

Related Videos

Virgin Galactic shared a video, showing the Unity being released from the mothership and gaining altitude, and you can see it gliding along at the very edge of space:

Virgin Galactic Completes First-Ever Spaceflight from New Mexico

This was the first time that crewed spaceflight has taken off from this spaceport. “Fifteen years ago, New Mexico embarked on a journey to create the world’s first commercial spaceport,’’ said Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson. ‘’Today, we launched the first human spaceflight from that very same place, marking an important milestone for both Virgin Galactic and New Mexico. I am proud of the team for their hard work and grateful to the people of New Mexico who have been unwavering in their commitment to commercial spaceflight from day one. Their belief and support have made today’s historic achievement possible.”

The previous test flight of the VSS Unity, in December last year, failed to reach space when the engines cut out during the flight. No one was injured and the vehicle landed safely, but the incident raised concerns about the safety of passengers — particularly as this is to be a space tourism vehicle.

There is also a surprising debate over whether reaching this altitude actually counts as a space flight. One of the most common definitions used for the boundary between our planet’s atmosphere and outer space is the Kármán line, defined as 100 kilometers (62 miles) above sea level. However, the U.S. Air Force and NASA use a different definition of the start of space of 50 miles above sea level. These boundaries are both rather arbitrary as there is no clear delineation between the outer atmosphere and space.

So whether people who fly in a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo have actually been to space depends on who you ask. The highest altitude this spaceplane has reached is 56 miles in February 2019, which is between the two definitions. That’s why you’ll see some people refer to Virgin Galactic’s planes as traveling into space, and others saying they come close to the boundary of space.

Editors' Recommendations

Virgin Galactic cleared to resume space flights following FAA investigation
Virgin Galactic's spaceplane soaring to the edge of space.

After being grounded by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigation last month, space tourism company Virgin Galactic has now been cleared to resume its space flights.

The FAA was investigating what happened on the flight which carried Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson to the edge of space on July 11 this year. During that flight, the craft VSS Unity veered off course and a caution light was illuminated, according to a report in the New Yorker. The flight took off and landed safely, but the report raised concerns about the safety of the flight for those on board.

Read more
Virgin Galactic grounded by FAA investigation into off-course flight
Virgin Galactic's spaceplane soaring to the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic flights have been grounded while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigates its previous flight, which carried founder Richard Branson to the edge of space on July 11.

There were issues with the trajectory of that flight that have only recently come to light, as detailed in a New Yorker article that was published this week. The article states that, during the flight, the SpaceShipTwo craft VSS Unity veered off course and pilots saw a caution light that their flight path was too shallow. Although the flight took off and landed without any issues, this report suggests that had the pilots not managed to correct the issue, they could have had to make a risky emergency landing.

Read more
Virgin Galactic: Final chance to win free flight to edge of space
Virgin Galactic's space plane heading to the edge of space.

If you fancy a trip to the edge of space with Virgin Galactic but don't quite have the $450,000 to make it happen, then how about a free flight in exchange for a small (or big) charitable donation?

Let us explain. After sending its founder Richard Branson to 282,000 feet above Earth in a recent flight to publicize its upcoming space tourism service, Virgin Galactic announced a raffle offering free seats to a winner and a guest for a future ride aboard its VSS Unity spaceplane.

Read more