11 Jul 21. The Washington Post reported today that Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic crew safely back from space, ushering in a new era. For 20 years, Richard Branson has yearned to ride his spaceplane to the edge of space. On Sunday, he did it. The suborbital trip gave the British billionaire, his three crewmates and two pilots a glimpse of the Earth from more than 50 miles up and a few minutes of weightlessness before the vehicle they were traveling in, SpaceShipTwo Unity, glided back to Earth and a landing on the runway at Virgin Galactic’s facility here in the New Mexico desert. It was SpaceShipTwo’s fourth trip to the edge of space since 2018, and Virgin Galactic, the company Branson founded in 2004, says it will soon start flying paying customers regularly on similar jaunts, opening a new era in human space exploration.
Here’s what to know:
- The mother ship that launched the SpaceShipTwo Unity space plane was originally scheduled to take off at 9 a.m. Eastern time from the runway at Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America facility in New Mexico, but that was delayed until shortly after 10:30 a.m.
- SpaceShipTwo Unity was released from the belly of the mother ship at about 46,000 feet. The pilots fired its engines, and it soon reached its apogee — its highest point — of about 282,000 feet.
- · It was the fourth time SpaceShipTwo Unity had achieved the 50-mile altitude that the Federal Aviation Administration recognizes as the edge of space. Each member of the crew was expected to receive their astronaut wings in a ceremony scheduled for shortly after the spaceplane lands.
SpaceShipTwo Unitytouched down on the runway at Spaceport America just about 15 minutes after it was released from its mothership and thundered to the edge of space, completing a daring flight that Richard Branson has dreamed of for years.
A crowd gathered along the tarmac cheered when they saw the shiny, white spaceplane come back after what appears to be a successful mission. In addition to Branson, Virgin Galactic employees Sirisha Bandla, Colin Bennett and Beth Moses were on board the test flight, which was piloted by Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci.
The company hopes the mission will pave the way for future flights of paying customers. It has some 600 people who have put down significant deposits and are waiting to fly. It also is expected to soon reopen sales for tickets, which had cost $250,000 but are now expected to be more expensive, perhaps as much as $500,000.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity spaceplane reached the edge of space, flying to an altitude of more than 50 miles. The vehicle is carrying Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and three employees and has two pilots at the controls. After reaching its apogee, or high point, it reoriented itself and is falling back toward Earth, gliding to a runway landing.
How Virgin Galactic was founded nearly two decades ago
In 2004, Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, won the Ansari X Prize, by sending the first commercially developed spacecraft past what is known as the Kármán line, an internationally recognized threshold that says space begins at 100 kilometers, about 62 miles, above the Earth’s surface. At the time, Richard Branson was fascinated with the idea of private space travel and was thinking of starting a space company of his own. And when he saw SpaceShipOne, the vehicle that legendary aviation designer Burt Rutan developed for Allen, he was smitten. Allen was growing nervous about the dangers of human spaceflight and agreed to sell Branson the rights to the technology. Branson quickly slapped a Virgin logo on the spacecraft and set out to make it more robust. SpaceShipOne, which hangs in the National Air and Space Museum, was a relatively small and nimble spaceplane that flew with a single pilot each time it went to space. But Branson had something bigger and more ambitious in mind — creating the world’s first “commercial spaceline,” as he called it. And Virgin Galactic set out to build a larger craft capable of flying six passengers with two pilots. For now, however, the company is flying just four people in addition to the pilots. And it flies past 50 miles, not 62. SpaceShipTwo, as it is called, has reached that 50-mile altitude three times before today’s flight, allowing Branson to fly and fulfill the dream he had nearly 20 years ago.
BATTLESPACE Comment: The Editor watched the unique and exciting launch and space release live and hopes many of our readers shared the experience! Sir Richard Branson deserves the credit for the foresight and tenacity he has shown since the inception of Virgin Galactic in 2004, taking all the problems in his stride including the tragic crash in 2014 which killed the co-pilot Richard Alsbury, a veteran test pilot who had flown on SpaceShipTwo before. Pilot Peter Siebold suffered serious injuries but survived when his seat was ejected from the spacecraft as it broke apart, allowing him to use a parachute. Today the whole world of space flight has changed and opened the world to a whole new space age. Space is now open to all, not just governments and government agencies. In addition, the aerodynamic design and technology used to build the Virgin Galactic ushers in a new way of launching vehicles into space which today has been proven and the era of a new super space shuttle has returned.