Virgin Galactic investors cheer space flight success

The historic flight also marks a first for human spaceflight in New Mexico

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo spacecraft successfully completed its first spaceflight from New Mexico's Spaceport America over the weekend. 

On Monday investors piled into the stock, lifting shares nearly 20% in pre-market trading. 

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Together with WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft VMS Eve, VSS Unity ascended to an altitude of 50,000 feet before a 9:26 a.m. MDT on Saturday that sent VSS Unity rocketing upward into space.


The launch window above Spaceport America – located just south of Truth or Consequences, N.M. – opened at 8 a.m. MDT. 

The crewed mission was piloted by Kelly Latimer and Michael Masucci aboard VMS Eve and CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay on VSS Unity. 

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (SS2), the world's first commercial spaceline, lands at Mojave airport after successfully completing its third rocket-powered supersonic flight. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The company tweeted at 8:35 a.m. MDT that VMS Eve and VSS Unity had taken to the skies, kicking off a more-than-hour-long journey. 

Approximately 10 minutes from release, VSS Unity switched to its own battery power for avionics and control systems, performed system and flight checks and readied the rocket motor system.

"Release, release, release! VSS Unity has successfully separated from VMS Eve," the company tweeted at 9:27 a.m. MDT, as the rocket made its way towards its apogee.

At 9:31 a.m. MDT, VSS Unity had reached space. 

The rocket was carrying both human operators and research payloads in partnership with NASA's Flight Opportunities program

At 9:33 a.m. MDT Virgin Galactic tweeted VSS Unity had begun its nominal descent back to Earth, touching down 10 minutes later.

In an Instagram story and Twitter post, Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson could be seen cheering with a group of others watching from the flightline. 

"Delighted to be on the flightline to watch @VirginGalactic’s first human spaceflight from the majestic Spaceport America @Spaceport_NM #UNITY21," he wrote.

VMS Eve touched down at Spaceport America at 10:24 a.m. MDT.

"VMS Eve has landed safely. Thanks to our pilots Kelly Latimer and Michael Masucci for flying the mothership today and their vital role in helping VSS Unity complete today’s spaceflight," Virgin Galactic tweeted.

Saturday marked Virgin Galactic's second attempt to reach space from New Mexico. 

In December, a test flight was unsuccessful due to technical issues, including high levels of electromagnetic interference. 

In a press release ahead of the first human space launch in New Mexico, the company noted that a key objective of the flight would be to test the work completed on VSS Unity since last year and incorporate "all original test objectives, including assessment of the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during the boost phase of the flight, evaluating elements of the customer cabin and testing the live stream capability from the spaceship to the ground."

The company, which hopes to begin commercial service to customers next year, has sold seats onboard its SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane for hundreds of thousands of dollars and reported last year the company had more than 600 reservations.


Notably, the fourth spaceflight is scheduled to carry members of the Italian Air Force for Virgin Galactic's first "full revenue flight," generating $2 million. 

Branson is also expected to fly to space as well in an upcoming flight.

This story, originally published on 5/22/2021, has been updated.