Virgin Galactic test pilots flew VSS Unity from the Mojave Air and Space Port to 170,800 feet on Thursday morning, the company said, marking the company’s highest flight yet. The rocket-powered ship, flying at supersonic speeds, flew though the stratosphere and reached the mesosphere for the first time. “This was a new altitude record for both of us in the cockpit, not to mention our mannequin in the back, and the views of Earth from the black sky were magnificent,” said test pilot Dave Mackay. Unity was carried to 46,500 feet by the carrier aircraft VMS Eve. After release, the crew lit the ship’s rocket motor and pulled up into a near-vertical climb, reaching speeds up to Mach 2.47.
“The flight was exciting and frankly beautiful,” said pilot Mike Masucci. “We were able to complete a large number of test points which will give us good insight as we progress to our goal of commercial service.” The mesosphere is rarely studied by scientists because it is above the range of balloon flight, Virgin said in a news release, adding that the company hopes to help the research community explore it further in the future. The flight also collected data on supersonic aerodynamics and thermal dynamics.