After nearly 17 years of development and over a billion dollars invested in Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson achieved his dream and reached space.
From the cabin of the spaceship, Branson spoke of space flight as “the complete experience of a lifetime”.
“This is the moment I dreamed of as a child, and to be honest, nothing can prepare you for a view of Earth from space,” said Branson after landing.
The company’s VSS Unity spacecraft launched over the New Mexico skies on Sunday, with two pilots driving the vehicle with the billionaire founder and three Virgin Galactic employees. VSS Unity – after it was released over 40,000 feet by a carrier aircraft called the VMS Eve – ignited its rocket motor and accelerated to more than three times the speed of sound as it ascended to the edge of space.
Sir Richard Branson stands on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in front of the trading of Virgin Galactic (SPCE) in New York, USA, 28 October 2019.
Richard Branson Virgin Galactic IPO NYSE
VSS Unity then performed a slow backflip in weightlessness as the Virgin Galactic crew were weightless and floating around the cabin of the spaceship. The spacecraft reached an altitude of 86.1 kilometers (53.5 miles or approximately 282,000 feet).
The vehicle then glided back through the atmosphere to land on the runway of Spaceport America where it had previously taken off.
VSS Unity will be released from the carrier aircraft VMS Eve during the launch of its third space flight on May 22, 2021.
The pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci flew with Unity. Sitting next to Branson in the spacecraft’s cabin are chief ronaut trainer Beth Moses, chief operations engineer Colin Bennett, and vice president for government affairs Sirisha Bandla. Both Mackay and Masucci have previously flown into space, as have Moses and pilots CJ Sturckow and Mark Stucky.
The US officially regards pilots who have flown more than 50 miles (or approximately 262,000 feet) as astronauts.
VSS Unity is designed for up to six passengers together with the two pilots. The company has approximately 600 reservations for tickets for future flights, which sell for prices between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000 each.
“We’re here to make space more accessible to everyone,” said Branson after the flight. “The mission statement that I wrote in my spacesuit was to make the dream of space travel come true for my grandchildren … and for many people living today, for everyone.”
The space goals
This was Virgin Galactic’s fourth spaceflight to date, the second this year, and the first with more than one passenger.
In addition to flying Branson, spaceflight had other goals as Virgin Galactic is still testing its spacecraft system, with the goal of entering commercial service in early 2022.
The four crew members test the spacecraft’s cabin and the training program Virgin Galactic has developed to ensure customers are properly prepared for the experience. In addition, Bandla will test running a research experiment while doing an exercise with plants in test tubes for the University of Florida.
Sunday’s space flight is one of three Virgin Galactic still needs to complete development, and two more are expected this year.
A competition for others
Shortly after the spaceflight landed, Branson announced that Virgin Galactic had partnered with sweepstakes company Omaze to offer a chance for two seats on “one of the first Virgin Galactic commercial spaceflights” early next year.
“You have a chance to go into space,” said Branson.
The competition requires a donation that goes to a nonprofit organization called Space For Humanity. The billionaire added that he will put on his “Willy Wonka hat” to give the winners a tour of Spaceport America.
“It’s a way of just trying to attract a lot of people who otherwise couldn’t afford to go into space,” said Branson.
Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson, front center, gathers with Virgin Galactic employees in front of the new SpaceShip Two VSS Unity following a new aircraft roll-out ceremony at Mojave Air and Space Port on February 19, 2016 in Mojave, California .
Ricky Carioti | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Branson has dreamed of going into space since watching the Apollo moon landing and founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 to fly private passengers into space. He started the company to buy spaceships built by aerospace designer Burt Rutans Scaled Composites.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system emerged from Branson’s contract with Scaled Composites. However, the spacecraft’s development had several setbacks, including a rocket engine explosion on the ground in 2007 that killed three Scaled Composite employees, and the 2014 crash of the first SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, in which the co-pilot of Virgin Galactic, Michael Alsbury, was killed and injured pilot Peter Siebold.
The company then built VSS Unity, which is equipped with additional safety measures to prevent future accidents. Virgin Galactic began testing Unity in 2016 and first reached space in December 2018. In addition, Virgin Galactic rolled the next spacecraft in its fleet earlier this year, VSS Imagine, which is the first of its next-generation SpaceShip III vehicle class.
Last month, Virgin Galactic received a license extension from the US Federal Aviation Administration that allows the company to fly passengers on future space flights. The company completed a 29-element verification and validation program for the FAA and reached the last two regulatory milestones with its most recent space test in May.
Branson wasn’t previously expected to fly on Sunday’s space flight, as Virgin Galactic leadership said the company planned to fly the founder on his penultimate test flight. But after billionaire Jeff Bezos announced that he would be flying on July 20 on his company’s Blue Origin company’s first passenger flight, Virgin Galactic changed its flight schedule – with the aim of flying Branson nine days before Bezos.
Sunday’s flight, which takes off from Bezos or Elon Musk, means Branson will be the first of the multi-billion dollar space company founders to drive his own spaceship.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin compete in suborbital space tourism, with both companies’ spaceships taking passengers to the edge of space for a few minutes to soar in weightlessness. An orbital flight, such as with Musks SpaceX, costs tens of millions of dollars and typically spends several days or weeks in space.
Branson’s company believes there is a market that can accommodate up to 2 million people on suborbital space flights with prices between $ 250,000 and $ 500,000, with the market expanding as costs drop.
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