A Virgin Galactic spacecraft has touched the edge of space for the second time in three months, achieving the highest speed and altitude to date and carrying a third crew member on board for the first time, the US-based company claimed. Spaceship VSS Unity -- the fifth Virgin Galactic supersonic rocket-powered test flight -- also carried research payloads from the NASA.
Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and co-pilot Michael Masucci become commercial astronauts and the 569th and 570th humans in space, the company said in a statement.
Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's Chief Astronaut Instructor, flew as the third crew member in a first, live evaluation of cabin dynamics, it said.
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Moses became the 571st person to fly to space and the first woman to fly on board a commercial spaceship.
In addition to this element of envelope expansion, VSS Unity flew higher and faster than ever before, as its world record-holding hybrid rocket motor propelled the spaceship at Mach 3.04 to an apogee of 295,007 feet.
The crew enjoyed extraordinary views of Earth from the black skies of space and, during several minutes of weightlessness. Moses floated free to complete a number of cabin evaluation test points.
The human validation of data previously collected via sensors, and the live testing of other physical elements of the cabin interior, are fundamental to the provision of safe but enjoyable customer experience, Virgin Galactic said in a statement.
"Flying the same vehicle safely to space and back twice in a little over two months, while at the same time expanding the flight envelope, is a testament to the unique capability we have built up within the Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company organisations," said Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic.