Virgin Galactic reached a new milestone this week with its spacecraft reaching over twice the speed of sound and flying at a new record altitude.
SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity along with its two test pilots Dave Mackay and Mike “Sooch” Masucci reached the Earth’s Mesosphere at an altitude of 170,800 ft.
This is the furthest the commercial spacecraft has reached yet and thanks to the myriad of cameras aboard the world was given a front row seat of the incredible view.
When it becomes fully operational, Virgin Galactic will be offering tickets on board VSS Unity for around $250,000 per seat.
The flight went entirely as planned with the Unity’s carrier aircraft piggybacking it to an altitude of around 50,000ft. At which point the Unity detached from the carrier and engaged its main rocket for a 42 second burn.
The pilots then pushed the spacecraft to its limits as it reached a speed of mach 2.47 or over twice the speed of sound.
At this point the spacecraft reached the Earth’s Mesosphere, a region that’s not technically classified as space but still allows some pretty incredible views.
Once commercial flights begin however the pilot will push Unity even further, reaching an altitude of around 50-62 miles. At this point the passengers will experience a small amount of microgravity.
At this point Unity will engage its unique feathering feature which tips the wings upwards effectively slowing the spacecraft during its descent back towards the Earth.
It was during this crucial moment that 39-year-old test pilot Michael Alsbury sadly lost his life when an earlier spacecraft broke up and crashed when its feathering system was accidentally deployed too early.
After the crash Virgin Galactic went back to the drawing board and have since built in safeguards to make sure that it cannot be activated early.
Following the complete redesign a number of unmanned and manned test flights have been successfully carried out and Virgin Galactic is already planning to move its base of operations to its commercial spaceport in New Mexico.
Speaking to the BBC, Virgin Galactic’s founder said in May that he was “months away” from taking his first flight into space aboard the VSS Unity craft.