Virgin Galactic launched its first fully crewed trip to the edge of space on Sunday, July 11, with company founder Richard Branson one of four passengers taking a seat aboard the VSS Unity spaceplane.
The 15-minute experience offered us the best look yet at how a Virgin Galactic space tourism ride will unfold when the company starts accepting paying passengers in 2022.
As you can see in the video above, the real fun begins at 50,000 feet when the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, releases VSS Unity. As it begins to drop, Unity’s two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, fire up its rocket engine to blast the crew to the edge of space.
After just 60 seconds, the spaceplane’s speed reaches 2,214 mph and the passengers are cleared to unfasten their seat belts so they can experience several minutes of weightlessness inside the cabin.
At a peak altitude of about 282,000 feet (53.4 miles/86 km), Branson’s three crewmates, Beth Moses, Colin Bennett, Sirisha Bandla, can be seen having fun floating around the cabin, though the billionaire founder of Virgin Galactic stays strapped firmly in his seat as he delivers an inspirational message to any children watching the spectacle.
Eventually Branson unfastens his seat belt to experience a period of weightlessness inside Unity, while at the same time marveling at the expansive and beautiful views of Earth through the spaceplane’s many windows.
The pilots then instruct the passengers to return to their seats for the short flight back to the runway at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
From the firing of Unity’s rocket engine to the landing at Spaceport America, the experience lasts just 15 minutes.
Sunday’s test flight appeared to go exactly according to plan, paving the way for the launch of a space tourism service some time next year.
Seats for Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight experience will cost an eye-watering $250,000, but following his test ride at the weekend, Branson launched a contest offering two free tickets for a flight in early 2022.
Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is also aiming to launch a similar space tourism service this year or next. Bezos will join his brother and aviation pioneer Wally Funk to take the first-ever crewed trip on his New Shepard rocket in a test mission set to launch just days from now.
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