Virgin Galactic has completed its first spaceflight in almost two years, marking the likely final test before commercial space tourism operations begin in late June. The company’s fifth brush with the boundary of space was undertaken following an “enhancement period” in which safety upgrades were made to its fleet. The flight, which included a few minutes of weightlessness, reached an altitude of 87km before gliding back down to the runway. Virgin Galactic employees will make what is expected to be the company’s final test flight on May 25, 2023, before taking paying customers on brief trips to space.
Company celebrates as it completes what is likely the final test before commercial space tourism operations begin.
Virgin Galactic has successfully carried out its first spaceflight in nearly two years, the company says, after an “enhancement period” to make safety upgrades to its fleet. This marks a significant milestone for the space tourism company, as it paves the way for commercial operations to begin in late June with members of the Italian Air Force as the first paying customers.
Thursday’s flight was the fifth time that Virgin Galactic had brushed the boundary of space, and it has been billed as the final test before commercial operations can begin. “Touchdown, VSS Unity!” the company tweeted, referring to the name of the company’s spaceplane. “Our crew and spaceship are back on Earth after landing smoothly at Spaceport America, New Mexico.”
The flight lasted about an hour, during which the mother ship carried the spaceplane to an altitude of 13,500 metres (44,500 feet), where it was released and fired its rocket motor to make the final push. The spaceplane then reached an altitude of 87km (54.2 miles) before gliding back down to the runway, As highlighted by the company. Six of the company’s employees, including two pilots, landed after the short up-and-down flight, which included a few minutes of weightlessness.
The successful flight marks a turning point for Virgin Galactic’s space programme, which has suffered years of delays and a 2014 accident that resulted in the death of a pilot. Federal aviation authorities also banned Virgin Galactic launches after founder Richard Branson’s flight to investigate a mishap. The Federal Aviation Administration investigated a problem that caused the rocket ship to veer off course during its descent back to its runway. Virgin Galactic made changes to its carrier plane and the spaceplane.
The delay was nearly twice as long as expected, partly due to supply chain issues and labour shortages. However, the successful test flight indicates that the company has overcome these challenges and is now ready to begin commercial operations.
Unlike other companies that use vertical-launch rockets, Virgin Galactic uses a carrier aircraft with two pilots that takes off from a runway, gains high altitude and drops a rocket-powered plane that soars into space before gliding back to Earth. The total journey time is 90 minutes with a few minutes of weightlessness. It is expected to cost $450,000 per seat.
The successful flight is a significant achievement for Virgin Galactic, which has been working towards this goal for over a decade. The company’s space programme has faced numerous setbacks and challenges, but the successful test flight indicates that it is finally ready to begin commercial operations.
The company’s founder, Richard Branson, beat fellow billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and rocket company Blue Origin into space nearly two years ago. Bezos ended up flying nine days later from West Texas, and Blue Origin has since launched several passenger trips. Virgin Galactic’s successful test flight indicates that it is now ready to join the race for space tourism.
With commercial operations set to begin in late June, Virgin Galactic is poised to become the first company to offer space tourism to paying customers. The successful test flight marks a significant milestone for the company and the space tourism industry as a whole.
As highlighted by Al Jazeera, the successful test flight is likely to boost investor confidence in the company and could lead to more investment in the space tourism industry. It is also expected to inspire other companies to enter the market, leading to increased competition and innovation.
To culminate, the successful test flight is a significant achievement for Virgin Galactic and a major step forward for the space tourism industry. With commercial operations set to begin in just a few weeks, the company is poised to make history and usher in a new era of space tourism.