Passengers and crew of the VSS Unity rocket plane take a 75-minute suborbital journey to the edge of space in a historic flight.
Virgin Galactic, the company founded by British businessman Richard Branson in 2004, has successfully completed its first commercial flight to the edge of space.
Two Italian air force officers and an aerospace engineer from Italy’s National Research Council joined a Virgin Galactic instructor and the two spaceplane pilots on a suborbital journey Thursday that took them some 80 km (50 miles). over the New Mexico desert.
The VSS Unity spaceplane then glided safely back to its starting point on a runway at Spaceport America, a state complex near the New Mexico town of Truth or Consequences.
The flight, called Galactic 01, lasted about 75 minutes and was completed two years after the company’s first fully crewed test spaceflight of its VSS Unity rocket plane. The successful journey marks a turning point for Virgin Galactic Holding Inc, which has been developing its business service for nearly 20 years while facing regular development setbacks.
“Welcome to space, astronauts,” Virgin Galactic’s Sirisha Bandla said during a live broadcast of the launch.
The US Space Agency, NASA, and the US Air Force define an astronaut as anyone who has flown at least 50 miles (80 km) above Earth.
Virgin Galactic uses a two-pilot “mothership” plane that takes off from a runway, gains high altitude, and then deploys the rocket-powered VSS Unity, rocketing into space at nearly Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound) before landing. plan back. to the earth.
Passengers in the spaceplane’s cabin experienced a few minutes of weightlessness and a glimpse of the planet’s curvature during its journey on Thursday.
TOMORROW we will launch The Spaceline for Earth with #galactic01, our first scientific research mission! You can watch the moment live at 9:00 am MDT | 11:00 a.m. EDT. Sign up so you don’t miss it: https://t.co/5UalYTpQxj pic.twitter.com/D7mBX8wDcH
— Virgin Galactica (@virgingalactic) June 28, 2023
Virgin Galactic has sold about 800 tickets for its commercial flights: 600 sold between 2005 and 2014 for $200,000 to $250,000 each, and 200 have since sold for $450,000 each.
Movie stars and other celebrities were among the first to reserve seats, but the company’s program suffered a disaster in 2014 when a space plane on a test flight broke up in midair, killing the co-pilot and seriously injuring the pilot.
Thursday’s flight also had science goals, and the crew planned to collect biometric data, measure cognitive performance and record how certain liquids and solids mix in microgravity.
According to Virgin Galactic, the company’s next scheduled commercial space flight, Galactic 02, is planned for August, with monthly space flights expected after that launch.
The Branson company competes in the “suborbital” space tourism sector with the Blue Origin company of American billionaire Jeff Bezos, which has already sent 32 people into space. But since a September crash during a drone flight, Blue Origin’s rocket has been grounded. The company promised in March to resume spaceflight soon.
Thursday’s launch comes shortly after Branson’s Virgin Orbit announced it would cease operations following a failed mission to the UK.
In January, the California-based company sought to complete the first satellite launch from British soil in the hope that the mission would be a significant springboard for space exploration from the UK.
But the LauncherOne rocket failed to reach orbit and saw its payload of US and UK intelligence satellites plunge into the ocean.