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Richard Branson welcomes astronauts home from Virgin Galactic’s historic first spaceflight

(13 December 2018 - Virgin Galactic) History has been made and a long-anticipated dream realised in Mojave, CA, today as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, landed from her maiden spaceflight to cheers from Richard Branson and the teams from Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company.

Not only is this the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011, but the very first time that a crewed vehicle built for commercial, passenger service, has reached space.

The historic achievement has been recognised by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who announced today that early next year they will present pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington DC. CJ, as a four-time Space Shuttle pilot, will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings.

Today’s accomplishment has also been recognised by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which flew four space science and technology experiments on VSS Unity, making this Virgin Galactic’s first revenue generating flight.

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VSS Unity takes to the skies for her first Spaceflight (courtesy: Virgin Galactic)

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View of Earth from VSS Unity (courtesy: Virgin Galactic)

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VSS Unity lands smoothly after her first Spaceflight (courtesy: Virgin Galactic)

The spectacular spaceflight, which was witnessed by a large crowd of staff and their families, as well as special guests and media, saw a 60 second planned rocket motor burn which propelled VSS Unity to almost three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles.

As VSS Unity coasted upwards through the black sky and into space, Virgin Galactic Mission Control confirmed the news and congratulated the two astronaut pilots: “ Unity, Welcome to Space”.

After a Mach 2.5 supersonic re-entry into the atmosphere, which utilised Unity’s unique “feathering” configuration, Forger and CJ guided the spaceship down to a smooth runway landing and an emotional homecoming welcome.

Commenting from the flight line Richard Branson said: “Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally. Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder. We started Virgin nearly 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge. Today, as I stood among a truly remarkable group of people with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled. It was an indescribable feeling: joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come.

“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. Today we completed our first revenue generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings. Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good. We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos. This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.”

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, said: “What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century’s defining industries. Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine. New enterprises are being created which will become hugely valuable, while enabling humanity to better manage some of its greatest future challenges. Today was a remarkable achievement brought about by the skill, dedication and support of our shareholders, staff, customers, partners and many other stakeholders. We extend our congratulations and thanks to each and every one of them.”

About Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline. Founded by Sir Richard Branson and owned by the Virgin Group and Mubadala Investment Group, Virgin Galactic will transform access to space for the benefit of life on Earth. To date, over 600 men and women from over 50 countries—greater than the total number of humans who have ever been to space—have reserved places to fly on Virgin Galactic’s reusable space launch system, consisting of carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo and spacecraft SpaceShipTwo. SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo are manufactured and tested in Mojave, California by its manufacturing partner, The Spaceship Company (TSC). Spaceflight operations will be based at Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

About The Spaceship Company

The Spaceship Company (TSC) is Virgin Galactic’s space-system manufacturing organization. Headquartered at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, it is building and testing a fleet of WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and SpaceShipTwo reusable spaceships that, together, form Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflight system. Its team of talented and dedicated engineers, technicians and professionals are drawn together by a willingness to disrupt and challenge the status quo and deliver innovative aerospace solutions to our customers’ needs. TSC’s extensive capabilities encompass preliminary vehicle design and analysis, manufacturing, ground testing, flight testing and post-delivery support.

About Mubadala Investment Company

Mubadala Investment Company actively manages a worldwide portfolio supporting the vision of a globally integrated and diversified economy, through sustainable returns to its shareholder, the Government of Abu Dhabi. In March 2018, Abu Dhabi Investment Council (ADIC) joined the Group.

Mubadala’s US $225 billion (AED 830 dirham) portfolio spans five continents with interests in aerospace, ICT, semiconductors, metals and mining, renewable energy, oil and gas, petrochemicals, utilities, healthcare, real estate, defense services, pharmaceuticals and medical technology, agribusiness and a global portfolio of financial holdings. Mubadala is a trusted partner, an engaged shareholder and a responsible global company that is committed to ethics and world-class standards.