Virgin Galactic VSS Unity Third Powered Test Flight

virgin galactic third powered flight

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity third powered flight on July 26th 2018. Image courtesy of Virgin Galactic.

By Bob Brodbeck

Less than two months after the previous test, Virgin Galactic on Thursday afternoon (July 26) launched its reusable Virgin spaceship (VSS) Unity to a new altitude record for the vehicle on its third successfully powered supersonic flight towards space. The launch aircraft, Virgin mothership (VMS) Eve, also known as WhiteKnightTwo, flew out of the Mojave Air and Space Port and carried VSS Unity, the spaceship part of the SpaceShipTwo system, to 46,500 ft at which altitude it released the space plane. Igniting its main rocket engine, pilots Dave Mackay and Mike “Sooch” Masucci then took Unity in a near vertical climb with a 42 second burn to over Mach 2.4, reaching an apogee of 170,800 ft (32 mi or 52 km) in the mesophere high above the Earth.

The six space tourist passenger seats in the Unity cabin were unoccupied except for an instrumented mannequin. Instrumentation data was gathered on the ship, including cabin parameters such as temperatures, pressures, vibration, and radiation, among others. After VSS Unity landed safely at the spaceport, Chief Pilot Mackay said in a report, “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.”

Unity’s test flight Thursday followed by eight days the most recent test flight on July 18th of its space tourism competitor Blue Origin, who successfully flew their New Shepard booster and passenger capsule to new heights in a third re-flight and landing. Their passenger capsule, although without any people on board, achieved a 389,000 ft (73 mi or 119 km) apogee in space with a test of its capsule emergency escape rocket.

The U.S. Air Force considers 50 mi (80.5 km) to be the boundary of space, which is below the currently accepted international boundary, known as the Karman Line, at 62 mi or 100 km altitude. Thursday’s flight of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity reached a new height of 32 mi (52 km) and a top speed of Mach 2.4 compared to an altitude of 22 mi and Mach 1.9 on its previous powered test flight. The crewed VSS Unity has flown a total of fourteen times including unpowered glide flights.

It is not known how many test flights remain before the Virgin Galactic company makes suborbital passenger flights to space, although in May founder and billionaire Sir Richard Branson said, “Before the end of the year, I hope to be sitting in a Virgin Galactic spaceship, going to space.” The company has reportedly sold about 650 tickets at a cost of $250K each. Likely a VSS Unity flight with Sir Richard aboard will be prior to initiating flights with paying tourists, so it may be early 2019 when VSS Unity flies with real tourists.

Meanwhile competitor Blue Origin is approaching crewed test flights on its New Shepard suborbital spaceship, possibly to take place yet this year, then to be followed by tourist flights, likely sometime in early 2019 which is when they are expected to start selling tickets.

There are no bookmakers known to be offering odds at this time as to which company will make it to space first with tourists! Suffice it to say however, that NSS members are keenly watching progress toward routine sub-orbital space tourism.


Picture of National Space Society

National Space Society

Leave a Comment

future 1

Don't Miss a Beat!

Be the first to know when new articles are posted!

Follow Us On Social Media


Give The Gift Of Space: Membership For Friends and Family

Book Review


ISDC 2024:

International Space Development Conference May 23rd-26th, 2024


Image of Kalpana One space settlement courtesy Bryan Versteeg, $32,000 in Cash Awards Given for Best Space-Related Business Plans — Deadline March 1, 2024

Category: Nonfiction Reviewed by: John J. Vester Title: Nuclear Rockets: To the Moon and Mars Author: Manfred “Dutch” von Ehrenfried Format: Paperback/Kindle Pages: 270 Publisher:

Partially Successful Flight Reached Space and Demonstrated New “Hot Staging” System The National Space Society congratulates SpaceX on the second test of its Starship/Super Heavy

Ad Astra, the NSS quarterly print, digital, and audio magazine, has won a 2023 MARCOM Gold Award. The awards are given yearly for “Excellence in

By Jennifer Muntz, NSS Member Coordinator On October 10th, an inspiring breakfast event took flight at the Center for Space Education at the Kennedy Space

By Grant Henriksen NSS Policy Committee Benefit sharing is a concept that refers to the distribution of benefits derived from the exploration and use of

People residing and working in space, space settlements, or on long-duration space flights will need to produce infrastructures and food to maintain healthy lifestyles. The

Image: Artist’s concept of the Blue Moon lander. Credit: Blue Origin. Second Human Landing System Contract Encourages Competition and Innovation The National Space Society congratulates