Space tourism took a giant leap closer to becoming a reality this morning. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic sent two test pilots beyond Earth’s boundaries and brought them back safely.
The mission was Virgin Galactic’s fourth test flight of its craft VSS Unity. This is the ship that will send those lucky enough to be able to afford it into space.
Virgin Galactic Fourth Test Run
The aircraft had two pilots onboard. It was carried over 43,000 feet into the air by the launch vehicle called VMS Eve. Once they reached 43,000 feet up, Eve released Unity. From here the VSS Unity shot upwards at a speed of Mach 2.9—almost three times the speed of sound. It continued on this trajectory for 60 seconds, longer than ever before.
VSS Unity climbed to 51.4 miles, which is 1.4 miles beyond the “edge of the planet” line. From this point, the rocket has a spectacular view of Earth and can also see the black of space. This will be where space tourists will be sent to on their journey.
Because today’s test run was a complete success, it indicates that we are not far off from sending tourists into space. The missions should be ready in time to compete directly with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space programmes.
The test run has been a challenge. As Branson told reporters after the flight, the Virgin Galactic journey means that “myself and thousands of other people like me” could soon see space for themselves. He furthered:
“We saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled. How on Earth do I describe the feeling? […] Today for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship built to carry private passengers reached space.”
Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing partner The Spaceship Company simply told a crowd of cheering spectators at the Mojave Air & Space Port in Mojave, California, “We made it to space.”
Virgin Galactic Revenue
Technically speaking, this test run was actually Virgin Galactic’s first revenue earner. NASA paid to have a flight test dummy and four research payloads onboard the craft.
It was important to see some cash roll in since Richard Branson announced he would no longer be accepting a $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia since learning about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in October.
Now, Branson hopes that today’s success will “bring in one or two other investors.”
Featured Image: flickr