Just after 9:15 a.m., the SpaceShipTwo broke away from its mothership and fell momentarily before its engine screamed for life and the vehicle flew upward. On board, passengers suffered up to three G’s of force from the explosion of extreme acceleration and watched the blue sky melt into the starry 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 on 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 thick atmosphere of Earth and descended back to an airstrip.
This flight marked only the fourth test flight of the vehicle that reached the edge of space.
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 at $ 200,000 to $ 250,000 to date. The company is expected to reopen ticket sales soon, but at a higher price.
But it’s 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 an auction. charity 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.
How Virgin Galactic got here
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.
“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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