Passengers and crew of the VSS Unity rocket plane take a 75-minute suborbital ride to the edge of space in a historic flight.
Virgin Galactic, the company founded in 2004 by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, has successfully completed its first commercial flight to the edge of space.
Two Italian Air Force officers and an aerospace engineer from the National Research Council of Italy joined a Virgin Galactic instructor and the spaceplane’s two pilots on a suborbital ride Thursday that would take them about 80 km (50 mi) above the New York desert. Mexico brought.
The VSS Unity spaceplane then safely glided back to its launch pad on a runway at Spaceport America, a state complex near the New Mexico city of Truth or Consequences.
Called Galactic 01, the flight lasted about 75 minutes and was completed two years after the first fully crewed test space flight of the VSS Unity rocket plane. The successful journey marks a turning point for Virgin Galactic Holding Inc, which has spent nearly 20 years developing its commercial service while experiencing frequent development setbacks.
“Welcome to space, astronauts,” Virgin Galactic’s Sirisha Bandla said during a live stream of the launch.
The US Space Agency, NASA and the US Air Force define an astronaut as someone who has flown at least 80 km (50 miles) above the Earth.
Virgin Galactic uses a two-pilot “mothership” aircraft that takes off from a runway, reaches high altitude, then deploys the rocket-powered VSS Unity, which soars into space at nearly Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound) before it slides back to Earth.
Passengers in the spaceplane’s cabin experienced weightlessness for several minutes and were able to glimpse the planet’s curvature during their journey on Thursday.
TOMORROW we 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. CET. Sign up so you don’t miss it: https://t.co/5UalYTpQxj pic.twitter.com/D7mBX8wDcH
— Virgo Galactic (@virgingalactic) June 28, 2023
Virgin Galactic has sold about 800 tickets on its commercial flights – 600 were sold from 2005 to 2014 for $200,000 to $250,000 each, and 200 have since been sold for $450,000 each.
Movie stars and other celebrities were among the first to take seats, but the company’s program suffered a disaster in 2014 when a spaceplane on a test flight broke apart in mid-air, killing the copilot and seriously injuring the pilot .
Thursday’s flight also had scientific goals, with the crew planning 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 spaceflight, Galactic 02, is scheduled for August, and monthly flights to space are expected to roll out after that launch.
Branson’s company competes in the “suborbital” space tourism industry with American billionaire Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin, which has already sent 32 people into space. But since an accident in September during an unmanned flight, the Blue Origin rocket has been grounded. The company promised to resume space flights soon in March.
Thursday’s launch comes shortly after Branson’s Virgin Orbit announced it was ceasing operations after a failed mission in the United Kingdom.
In January, the California-based company attempted to complete the first satellite launch from British soil, hoping the mission would be a significant stepping stone for space exploration from the UK.
But the LauncherOne missile failed to reach orbit and saw its payload of American and British intelligence satellites plunge into the ocean.