Sunday morning, billionaire co-founder Richard Branson and five other passengers successfully rocketed into space, nearly 50 miles above Earth.
After taking off 1/2 hour earlier from the same runway attached to a twin-fuselage aeroplane, Virgin Galactic’s reusable SpaceShipTwo returned to Spaceport America, some 170 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the desert.
Branson declared at a news conference: “If you ever had a dream, now is the time to make it come true. I’d like to end by saying welcome to the dawn of a new space age.”
It was the fourth test flight of the system.
SpaceShipTwo took off from WhiteKnightTwo, a four-engine aircraft that looks like two jets, and landed. This particular WhiteKnightTwo is known as VMS Eve, after his mother Eve, with the abbreviation standing for Virgin MotherShip.
The system took off at 10:45 a.m. and achieved supersonic speeds of around 2,300 mph.
After roughly 50 minutes of flight, the vehicle reached 50,000 feet and dropped SpaceShipTwo. The engines carried the plane another 40 miles higher, and the crew was weightless for nearly four minutes before returning to Earth.
The Unity 22 mission marked the first time a private space company’s founder flew into space, beating Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, who also developed Amazon, by nine days.
“It was just magical,” Branson said during the live broadcast by his company. “It’s 17 years of painstaking work, the occasional horrible down and large ups with it. And today was definitely the biggest up.”
Gen. Jay Raymond, chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force, posted on Twitter: “Congrats to @richardbranson & the entire team @virgingalactic! “Your years of hard work & dedication paid off today with a flawless flight to the edge of Space.”
The trip included two pilots and three additional Virgin Galactic workers. The team got a taste of what hundreds of others are about to get because the firm has already sold tickets for $250,000 per person.
Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor, Colin Bennett, lead operations engineer, and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations, were the other three crew members. Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci are the pilots.
Virgin Galactic intends to begin paying passenger trips in 2022, following further test flights.
The cost is an estimated $250,000 per person with more than 600 people already signed up. He also has a contest to win two seats on a flight.
“We’re here to make space more accessible to all,” Branson said during the news conference. “We want to turn the next generation of dreamers into the astronauts of today and tomorrow. We’ve all us on this stage have had the most extraordinary experience, and we’d love it if a number of you can have it, too.
“If you ever had a dream, now is the time to make it come true. I’d like to end by saying welcome to the dawn of a new space age.”WHi
On Friday, Blue Origin posted on Twitter a comparison of its New Shepard rocket trips to Virgin Galactic’s vehicle, calling Branson’s ride a “high-altitude airplane.”
Blue Origin said that its rocket will reach the Kármán line of 62 miles in altitude, an international benchmark for defining space, but the VSS Unity will only reach the traditional US space standard of 50 miles in altitude.
Branson and many others in the business have stated that they don’t mind the comparisons or competition because many people who can afford it will be able to fly on both vehicles.
Elon Musk, another billionaire, established SpaceX, which has previously taken humans to the International Space Station and is planning moon and Mars missions. The firm, like Branson, is planning flights for paying consumers.
SpaceX, like Blue Origin, launches rockets into orbit with the capsule detaching from the booster.
Blue Origin launches from West Texas with Space X leasing NASA’s Cape Canaveral Launch Launch Complex 40. SpaceX also launches satellites from Vandenberg Space Force in Calif.