Swan song of the spaceplane: SpaceShipTwo made its last commercial flight

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity (SpaceShipTwo) spaceplane has made its last commercial flight. It sent a researcher and three private astronauts on a suborbital flight.

SpaceShipTwo’s final flight

The VSS Unity flight took place on June 8. Attached to the VMS Eve carrier aircraft, the spaceplane took off from the America Spaceport. Upon reaching the desired altitude, VSS Unity separated, after which it activated its rocket engine and performed takeoff on a suborbital trajectory. The spaceplane managed to reach an altitude of 87.5 kilometers. This is below the Karman Line, which is considered the accepted boundary of space, but above the 50-mile mark (80.45) that is accepted as the boundary of space by the U.S. Air Force.

Image of the VSS Unity passenger cabin taken during its final flight. Source: Virgin Galactic

There were six people on board the VSS Unity: commander Nicola Pecile, pilot Jameel Janjua and four passengers. One of them was Turkish research astronaut Tuva Atasever, whose flight was organized through Axiom Space. During the flight, he conducted a number of medical experiments.

The other three passengers were SpaceX engineer Andy Sadhwani, New York real estate developer and private pilot Irving Pergament and Italian investment manager Giorgio Manenti. The spaceplane also carried scientific instruments provided by the NASA Flight Opportunities program.

Next-generation spaceplane

The past mission was the seventh and final commercial flight for VSS Unity. Back last year, Virgin Galactic’s owner, Richard Branson announced the decision to discontinue SpaceShipTwo, which would save the company about $1 billion.

VSS Unity spaceplane. Source: Virgin Galactic

This money will be invested in the next generation Delta spaceplane. According to company officials, the Delta-class vehicles will be able to fly three times a week, carry up to six passengers instead of Unity’s four, and will be cheaper to operate.

Components for the first two Delta-class vehicles are expected to be delivered late this year, early next year, to Virgin Galactic’s Arizona facility for assembly and ground testing. Flight testing of the new spaceplanes should begin in late 2025, with commercial operation in 2026.

According to Spacenews