On Sunday, British billionaire Richard Branson announced his intention to become the first owner of a private space firm to launch into space.
The Virgin Galactic VSS Unity spaceship is set to take off after 9 a.m. EDT from New Mexico’s private Spaceport America, roughly 170 miles south of Albuquerque.
The spacecraft will be carried aloft by VMS Eve, the company’s dazzling white jet with a 140-foot wingspan. According to the company’s mission profile, Unity will disconnect from the plane when it reaches roughly 9 miles in altitude before activating its rocket engine and blasting straight up to the edge of space.
Unity will glide back down to the spaceport on its own power after roughly 10 minutes, including several minutes of weightlessness. The flight is scheduled to last around 90 minutes.
Branson, 70, will be joined by two pilots and three other Virgin Galactic workers to test the astronaut experience of the journey, which the firm plans to provide to paying passengers within a year.
“I’ll be evaluating the customer spaceflight experience,” Branson stated in a Twitter video. “When the founder of Virgin Galactic, I am overjoyed to have this incredible group… by my side as we go into space. Our goal will become a reality in July.”
I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars. On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next @VirginGalactic spaceflight https://t.co/x0ksfnuEQ3 #Unity22 pic.twitter.com/GWskcMSXyA
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) July 1, 2021
According to Richard Garriott, a computer billionaire who went into space in 2008, the trip will feature a breathtaking view of Earth and the blackness of space.
Garriott was a board member for the X Prize Foundation, a competition to build a suborbital rocket, when a predecessor to Virgin Galactic’s spaceship, SpaceshipOne, won the prize in 2004.
“The first exciting moment of the flight will be the release from the plane, when you will briefly become weightless even before you reach space,” Garriott said.
Garriott flew to space in a Russian Soyuz capsule, during which he felt gravity forces four times that experienced by people on the Earth’s surface.
“Passengers on a Virgin Galactic flight will experience up to 3 Gs, so that is still considerable and will be quite a thrill,” Garriott said.
The spaceship’s ultimate height will be around 55 miles above, beyond the 50-mile barrier believed to be the start of space.
Members of Branson’s crew will conduct a few scientific experiments, including one for the University of Florida that will investigate the effects of weightlessness on plant material.
Branson stated that he and his business have been working on making private spaceflight a reality for the past 16 years. He revealed his intention to fly after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, a fellow billionaire, announced his intention to launch his Blue Origin New Shepard rocket into space on July 20.
Weather or technological issues might cause any company’s debut to be delayed. According to the National Weather Service, the weather for southern New Mexico on Sunday will be largely clear and sunny.
Regardless of potential delays, the space industry is anxiously anticipating additional private spaceflights, according to Karina Drees, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation in Washington, D.C., in an email. The federation is an industrial group for firms involved in space-related activities.
“Soon, the number of people who want to fly themselves, an experiment, or a business idea into space will significantly increase,” Drees said. “But this is just the beginning. We have much more work to do to reach our goal of fully democratizing space.”
Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft shortly after it landed with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi aboard in the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Fla., on Sunday. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA