Reusable spacecraft VSS Unity of Virgin Galactic took off again on November 2 for the fifth space flight. The company continues to maintain the pace of one mission per month that it had started this spring.
Today’s flight, called Galactic 05, carried two researchers and another private passenger, along with the crew of VSS Unity, into suborbital space. The fifth commercial space flight for Virgin Galactic is the company’s tenth journey to the final frontier.
Data from the fifth flight
“The pursuit of scientific discovery has guided Virgin Galactic from the start. We are excited to offer a wide range of reliable and high-quality access to space research,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of the company, in a pre-flight statement (ref.).
“With six flights in six months, the team has achieved our goals in terms of delivery times for our initial spacecraft, VSS Unity”. VSS Unity took off from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico at 3:00 PM GMT, under the wings of the carrier, VMS Eve. When the pair reached an altitude of about 13,625 meters, Eve released Unity, which then ignited its hybrid rocket engine.
The spacecraft reached a maximum speed of Mach 2.96, three times the speed of sound as it ascended through the Earth’s atmosphere, wrote Virgin Galactic in a post-flight update (ref.).
About 1 hour of flight for the entire crew
While it did not reach orbit, Virgin Galactic’s fifth flight ascended high enough, about 87.2 kilometers. The altitude allowed its passengers to see the curvature of the Earth against the dark background of space. Additionally, the Galactic 05 crew experienced about two minutes of microgravity before Unity returned to Earth.
The landing took place on the runway of Spaceport America, around 3:59 PM GMT. Galactic 05 was the last flight for Virgin Galactic in 2023. The company plans to engage in a standard inspection of its vehicles before the next scheduled flight in January 2024.
Today’s mission carried a total of six people into space, three crew members, and three passengers. Mike “Sooch” Masucci served as the mission commander in Unity’s cockpit, while Kelly Latimer piloted the VMS Eve aircraft. Virgin Galactic’s astronaut instructor Colin Bennett conducted the final flight for the company’s onboard astronaut trainers, and subsequent flights will carry four passengers instead of three.”