Virgin Galactic Rocket Plane Makes Historic Commercial Flight.
June 30, 2023: Virgin Galactic, the space tourism venture founded by Sir Richard Branson in 2004, achieved a significant milestone as its rocket plane, Unity, completed its first commercial flight. This event marks a breakthrough for the company, which has been working towards offering commercial trips to the edge of space for nearly two decades.
The mission took place over the New Mexico desert, where Unity reached an altitude of approximately 53 miles, providing its passengers with breathtaking views and a few minutes of weightlessness. On board were two Italian air force colonels, an aerospace engineer from the National Research Council of Italy, and three crew members from Virgin Galactic.
Previously, Virgin Galactic had conducted test flights, but this marked the first mission with paying customers. The company has sold around 800 tickets priced at up to $450,000 for future space travel experiences.
Unity’s flight began after being carried to an altitude of about 50,000 feet by its carrier plane, VMS Eve. Once released, Unity’s rocket engine ignited, propelling the spacecraft to approximately three times the speed of sound. At its peak, Unity reached an altitude of nearly 85 kilometers (about 53 miles).
During the flight, the Italian team on board conducted scientific experiments, focusing on various aspects affected by microgravity conditions. These included studying the mixing of liquids and the behavior of biological cells, among other research endeavors.
The successful completion of this commercial flight is a significant step forward for Virgin Galactic. The company plans to expand its operations, aiming to launch up to 400 flights annually. This endeavor aligns Virgin Galactic with other prominent players in the space tourism industry, such as Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, and SpaceX, led by Elon Musk.
Virgin Galactic’s achievement opens up new possibilities for individuals interested in experiencing space travel. While Unity is currently limited in passenger capacity, the company is developing a new class of rocket planes to increase its commercial offerings. These new vehicles are expected to be introduced in 2026 and will enable more frequent flights, with a target of one per week.
Sir Richard Branson expressed his excitement about the milestone, stating that this flight ushers in a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for private passengers and researchers. Virgin Galactic’s dedication to scientific missions and its commercial goals highlights the company’s commitment to advancing knowledge and exploration beyond our planet.
As Virgin Galactic continues to make strides in space tourism, the hope is that space travel will become more accessible and commonplace, paving the way for a future where venturing beyond Earth’s boundaries becomes an achievable dream for many.