Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson has successfully completed its first commercial flight to space. In a long-awaited commercial debut, after Branson tested the flight with 5 Virgin Galactic personnel in 2021, paying customers were sent on a trip to space. The VSS Unity craft reached space at 9:30 am, local time New Mexico.
The flight carried six people on board that included an aerospace engineer from the National Research Council of Italy and two officers from the Italian Air Force along with two pilots of the craft and one Virgin Galactic instructor.
The flight, Galactic 01, lasted 75 minutes as the craft carried the passengers 80km above the New Mexico desert. The US air force and NASA define anyone who has flown 80km or 50 miles above Earth as an astronaut. The craft uses a mothership with two pilots that take off from the runway to gain high altitude before deploying rocket-powered VSS Unity which then flies into space at three times the speed of sound.
Passengers felt a few minutes of weightlessness and were able to see the planet’s curvature on their trip. The US-based company sold about 800 tickets for the commercial flight. 600 tickets were sold from 2005 to 2014 for $200,000 to $250,000 each and the remaining 200 were sold for $450,000 each since then.
Movie stars and other celebrities were quick to take the seats for an outer space flight experience, but the space program suffered a hiatus in 2014 when a terrible accident caused a test flight to break apart, killing the co-pilot and severely injuring the pilot.
Branson’s company is also competing against Jeff Bezos’s company, Blue Origin in the space tourism industry. Blue Origin has already managed to send 32 people in space but their rocket has been grounded since an accident in September. The company says that they will resume flights soon.
Virgin Galactic has announced their next commercial flight, Galactic 02, is planned for August this year and after that launch monthly space flights are expected to begin.