Space

Sir Richard Branson (almost) flies into space on VSS Unity

Sir Richard Branson (almost) f...
Sir Richard Branson (far right) and the team that flew on VSS Unity
Sir Richard Branson (far right) and the team that flew on VSS Unity
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Sir Richard Branson (far right) and the team that flew on VSS Unity
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Sir Richard Branson (far right) and the team that flew on VSS Unity
VSS Unity feathering its tail booms for reentry
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VSS Unity feathering its tail booms for reentry
VSS Unity firing its engine
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VSS Unity firing its engine
The curvature of Earth seen from VSS Unity
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The curvature of Earth seen from VSS Unity
The passengers experienced weightlessness during the flight
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The passengers experienced weightlessness during the flight
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British billionaire Sir Richard Branson almost, but not quite, flew into space today as a passenger aboard the privately built and operated Virgin Galactic spaceplane, VSS Unity, which took off from Spaceport America, New Mexico at about 10:30 am EDT.

Today's flight marks a major milestone in Virgin Galactic's 15-year struggle to establish a regular service to carry paying passengers and payloads into space. With pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci at the controls of VSS Unity, the rest of the complement consisted of Sir Richard, and mission specialists Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor; Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations.

Though this was billed as a flight into space, Unity did not quite make it. Flying under rocket power at Mach 3 (1,934 knots, 2,225 mph, 3,581 km/h), the craft only reached an altitude of 53.5 miles (86.1 km), while the generally recognized beginning of space is 62 miles (100 km). This marked the 22nd flight of Unity and the fourth rocket-powered spaceflight.

The passengers experienced weightlessness during the flight
The passengers experienced weightlessness during the flight

During the flight, the passengers and crew saw the curvature of the Earth and experienced a period of weightlessness before reentering the Earth's atmosphere and returning to base as an unpowered glider.

"I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space," says Sir Richard. "We are at the vanguard of a new space age. As Virgin’s founder, I was honored to test the incredible customer experience as part of this remarkable crew of mission specialists and now astronauts. I can’t wait to share this experience with aspiring astronauts around the world.

"Our mission is to make space more accessible to all. In that spirit, and with today’s successful flight of VSS Unity, I’m thrilled to announce a partnership with Omaze and Space for Humanity to inspire the next generation of dreamers. For so long, we have looked back in wonder at the space pioneers of yesterday. Now, I want the astronauts of tomorrow to look forward and make their own dreams come true."

The video below shows the flight of VSS Unity.

WATCH LIVE: Virgin Galactic Unity 22 Spaceflight Livestream

Source: Virgin Galactic

View gallery - 5 images
18 comments
18 comments
CAVUMark
Just a thought Sir Richard, what about making education and food more accessible to all?
SussexWolf
Sorry but by NASA’s long standing definition he’s an astronaut. Bezos lost his little race to space. 100km is just an arbitrary measure like 50 miles. Suck it up.
jeronimo
With all due respect to this program, and the technical achievement that it represents, how does it make human existence on a climatically stressed planet better ? It serves no useful purpose other than pouring more waste from burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere, for the pleasure of a roller-coaster ride to the outer atmosphere and back for the very rich and the lottery winners of the charities wrapped around this venture. This represents nothing more than the irresponsible wastefulness of humans on this planet.
anthony88
Karman Line, anyone?
michael_dowling
I can't see paying big bucks for a brief flight like this one. You can't reach orbital speed that way,it is just up and down. Small,cargo carrying rockets can be launched into low earth orbit,but not the Unity 22.
Don McGinn
Virgin crew did not make it to space, they are not astronauts - the craft was 6.5 miles short of the altitude which officially marks outer space, which is 60 miles, at apogee they reached 53.5 miles. Better luck next time!
BlueOak
Hilarious to hear Branson claiming his pulling forward from a previously scheduled later date to this weekend had nothing to do with Bezos scheduling his flight for this July.

Who really cares which of them got above 50 miles first anyway? What will be more interesting - to see how sustainable the revenue model will be for both companies to repeatedly fly these "space" flights. And who does it with the better safety and reliability record.

Meanwhile Musk chuckles as he cranks up the more sustainable commercial business model.
CTF
Hit most definitely hit space - by the standards of NASA, the FAA, and the US Military... enough of the discrediting here. The mission could not have been smoother - congrats to the flight crew and ground crews on all of the incredible work over the past years. He won the billionaire's race to space.
ljaques
Wow, a landmark and a letdown at the same time. They took off and landed within something like twenty minutes, a 50 mile up and 50 mile down trip. And their video glitched the whole way, both from the ground and the air. Some comm techs are looking for jobs right about now. I'd love to have gone up, though. Does anyone here NOT want to go into space?
Don Duncan
Meanwhile, SpaceX is slowly, quietly, building a global communication network, SpaceLink. The profits will all be re-invested in a moon base and those profits in a mars base.
A century from now no-one will know who Bezos or Branson were. Everyone will know about Musk for a long, long time.