Virgin Galactic Completes First Commercial Spaceflight


Virgin Galactic conducted its first suborbital commercial spaceflight from New Mexico’s Spaceport America on Thursday. The flight took off at 8:30 a.m. local time and touched down at 9:42 a.m. carrying three crew members and three paying passengers from the Italian air force and the National Research Council of Italy along with 13 research payloads. For the mission, the VSS Unity spacecraft was released from the company’s VMS Eve launch platform at 44,500 feet, reaching a maximum altitude of 52.9 miles and top speed of Mach 2.88 before returning to the spaceport.

“Today, our team successfully flew six people and more than a dozen research payloads to space in VSS Unity, our unique, suborbital science lab,” said Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier. “This historic flight was our first commercial flight and our first dedicated commercial research mission—ushering in a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for private passengers and researchers.”

Virgin Galactic is planning to launch its next commercial flight, dubbed Galactic 02, in August, after which it is aiming to conduct monthly spaceflights. Galactic 02 will be the company’s first spaceflight to carry private passengers. As previously reported by AVweb, Virgin Galactic was approved for commercial passenger operations by the FAA in June 2021. The company has reportedly sold around 800 spaceflight tickets at prices ranging from $200,000 to $450,000 to date.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. Article says that the maximum altitude was 52.9 miles, presumably nautical miles. That’s about 98 kilometers…two km shy of the Karman line that defines the start of space.

    • The Kármán line is not an official definition. The US Armed Forces use 50 miles (80 km) above mean sea level for example.

    • For what it’s worth, Unity’s progenitor – SpaceShip One – did break the Kármán line multiple times (I was there for the first).

      • Rush, that must’ve been a great experience! And they recognized it appropriately by registering SpaceShipOne as N328KF. That’s “328,000’ feet,” or about 100km. Still quite an achievement, but this flight came up just short.

    • Interesting if you think about it. When individuals were chasing prizes and/or fame, as well as when nation states were vying for dominance, those milestones were incredibly important.
      I wonder how many of VG’s customers really think it makes a difference. I bet a few do. Most likely do not.
      If you are looking for a book idea, I bet there’s some interesting parallels and contrasts with earlier frontiers on air, land, and sea. The economics of what kind of patrons, what economic and political strata they were from, and the effects on progress might be interesting.
      Maybe it’s because I’m a space race era kid, or because I was a sci fi fan, I think the more space flight the better, so I’m pretty positive on the concept. Anything that moves money from people who have lots of it to engineers, pilots, and makers is likely a good thing, too.

    • No, they were using statute miles. The only ship in the line to exceed 90km was S[aceShipOne, which cracked 100km on three occasions.

      And don’t hold your breath waiting for Unity to catch up. It was built around the engine, which doesn’t quite have the power to do the job. Swapping in a different engine would mean rebuilding the entire craft. Maybe doable, but building a Unity successor would be far more likely.

      For a nice review of all the SS1/SS2/Unity flights, see:

  2. Congrats to the Italian Air Force!
    Congrats to Virgin Galactic!

    I was impressed by the speeds I saw on the video display:
    Approach >200 mph – wowza
    Touchdown at 168 mph – yikes

    I also enjoyed the 40 seconds of IMC on the way down. Glad it didn’t cause them to scrub.

    Finally, Eve had to maintain a holding pattern until Unity could clear the runway which took a good 15 minutes. I cause the same problem when I land my sailplane (attention all available golf carts). What we need is electric taxi motors in our landing gear or additional runways, ha.

  3. Let’s see, $200,000 bucks will buy you a nice used airplane, a nice new LSA or about 20 minutes in space. Hmm, think I will stick with my old bug-smasher, thanks.

    • Let me be clear, I congratulate VG for their achievement in developing a truly unique vehicle. It shows innovation and ingenuity in approaching “space travel” in a different way. I just fail to see the point in “space tourism”, where a bunch of rich dudes get to check something off their bucket list. The average American probably could not pony up the cash for such a ride, even if they wanted to, which they most likely don’t. Love him or hate him, at least Elon Musk is building space vehicles that will produce tangible results for the future of space travel beyond suborbital joyrides.

  4. I presume the woke crowd was soundly disappointed by the successful conclusion. Have you seen some of the social media posts on the submersible implosion? Lucky they are exempt from the content rules.

    • Speaking as a fully-conscious aviator, your pejorative use of “woke” marks you more than us. Of course I am happy to see the successful conclusion of a record-breaking flight. Or any flight, for that matter.

      If you are getting your information about technological achievements and failures from the unwashed masses on social media, you deserve to remain ignorant of the significant differences between the two organizations. Sadly, where there is no oversight, all that stands between giddy post-flight photo-ops and salvage ops is the attitude of the principals involved. Stockton Rush is lucky that he didn’t survive his hubris.

    • Just thought I’d take this opportunity to differentiate myself from JOHN K. And thank you Aviatrexx for saying what needed to be said.

  5. I apologize for offending anyone who would not approve of the sort of “five billionaires at the bottom of the ocean is just a good start” posts I refer to. And there have been a LOT of them.

    And my new week’s resolution will be to crack down on my occasional inappropriate political outbursts. I recognize they are inappropriate for this forum; Mea culpa.