Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson successfully launches rockets into space



Branson – along with Virgin Galactic employees Beth Moses, Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla and pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci – boarded the SpaceShipTwo, a winged aircraft with a single rocket engine that the company has spent nearly two decades in to develop, before the crack of dawn. Tied under her enormous twin-fuselage mothership, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo, the vehicle took off at 8:30 a.m. MT and climbed to approximately 50,000 feet in the air.

Just after 9:15 a.m., the SpaceShipTwo detached from its mothership and momentarily fell before its engine screamed for life and the vehicle flew upward. On board, passengers suffered up to three G’s of force from the blast from extreme acceleration and watched the blue sky melt into the star-speckled darkness of space. At the top of the flight path, over 80 km high, the vehicle was suspended in zero gravity for a few minutes, allowing passengers to enjoy panoramic views of Earth and space as SpaceShipTwo rolled over onto The belly. He then deployed his feathering system, which wraps the plane’s wings upward, mimicking the shape of a badminton shuttlecock, to spin the spacecraft to the right as it returns into the thickened Earth’s atmosphere and descended back to an airstrip.

As Branson floated in microgravity, he recorded a message using cameras aboard the space plane: “To all the kids out there, I was once a kid with a dream, watching the stars. Now I am an adult in a spaceship. … If we can do it, imagine what you can do, ”he said.

This flight marked only the fourth test flight of the vehicle that reached the edge of space.

SpaceShipTwo’s takeoff was – in typical Branson fashion – a high-production party with friends, family, employees and a few VIPs in attendance. Earlier Sunday, Branson tweeted a photo of himself and a barefoot Elon Musk hanging out. Grammy-nominated artist Khalid is also set to perform a previously unreleased song on an outdoor stage.

What does that mean

Branson’s flight – which took place just nine days before Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos was tossed into suborbital space aboard his own company’s spacecraft – is a historic moment for the commercial space industry. The burgeoning industry has for years sought to make suborbital space tourism (a relatively straightforward top-to-bottom flight, as opposed to orbiting the Earth for longer periods of time) a viable business with the aim of enabling thousands of people to experience the adrenaline rush and panoramic views of our home planet that such flights can offer.

Branson and Bezos are well positioned to become direct competitors in this industry, each offering tickets to wealthy customers for short trips into the upper atmosphere aboard rocket-powered supersonic spacecraft.

Virgin Galactic plans to complete one additional test flight before it starts flying paying customers. Over 600 people have booked tickets priced from $ 200,000 to $ 250,000 to date. The company is expected to reopen ticket sales soon, but at a higher price.

The Branson flight also helps strengthen Virgin Galactic’s reputation as “the world’s leading commercial space line”. This is how the company announced itself by registering hundreds of volunteer customers who have waited, despite delays in development – and a tragic accident – for their chance to board SpaceShipTwo.

But it is not yet clear whether Virgin Galactic will truly be the “first” commercially operational suborbital space company. Bezos’ space company Blue Origin appeared poised to send its founder into space before Branson, until Virgin Galactic made the surprise announcement earlier this month that it would be on the very next flight of essay, a departure from the company’s previous plans.

Bezos’ flight, slated for July 20, could kick off the company’s business operations sooner than that, and one of his flight mates is a paying customer, having won a ticket at a charity auction. for the price of $ 28 million. However, the company has yet to start selling tickets to the public and has not set a specific date for when it plans to do so.

Neither company should offer affordable tickets for the average American. Branson teased a big “announcement” about his efforts to “democratize space” before the flight. But he only revealed on Sunday that Virgin Galactic would be hosting a “sweepstake” for two free tickets, as well as a tour of the facilities by the winners from Branson himself.

How Virgin Galactic got here

Virgin Galactic moved into its facility in New Mexico in May 2019 after years of delay. The glitzy building, called Spaceport America, was paid for with more than $ 200 million mostly in taxpayer dollars, and it’s been waiting almost a decade for Virgin Galactic to move in and open.

The company has renovated the building to include a lounge and other amenities that ticket holders can use before their brief trip to the outer reaches of space.

Virgin Galactic’s development program suffered a series of setbacks, including a catastrophic crash on a test flight in 2014 that left one co-pilot dead and the pilot seriously injured. after the premature deployment of the SpaceShipTwo’s feathering system, tearing the spacecraft apart. The company has since split from its manufacturing partner and says it has worked to improve SpaceShipTwo with additional automated safeguards.

Branson said ahead of Sunday’s test flight he was eager to join the pilots and test engineers who have flown on SpaceShipTwo before because he felt it demonstrated a crucial vote of confidence.

Richard Branson receives children's cards as he leaves Spaceport America near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico, July 11, 2021.

“You have to remember that Virgin Galactic has people on every space flight… The fact that I’m ready to fly with these people shows confidence,” Branson told CNN Business’s Rachel Crane earlier this month. “I think the least the founder of the company can do is go out there and fly with his people.”


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