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Virgin Galactic Sir Richard Branson rockets to the edge of space

Virgin Galactic  Sir Richard Branson rockets to the edge of space
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Richard Branson flies to edge of space in Virgin Galactic passenger … Sun, 11 Jul 2021 09:00:00 +0100-The UK businessman realises a lifetime's ambition by riding a rocket plane high into the sky.

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Virgin Galactic: Sir Richard Branson rockets to the edge of space

By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent

media captionWatch Sir Richard Branson's flight to the edge of space (and back)

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson has successfully reached the edge of space on board his Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

The UK entrepreneur flew high above New Mexico in the US in the vehicle that his company has been developing for 17 years.

The trip was, he said, the “experience of a lifetime”.

He returned safely to Earth just over an hour after leaving the ground.

“I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” he said in a press conference following the flight. “The whole thing was just magical.”

The trip also makes him the first of the new space tourism pioneers to try out their own vehicles, beating Amazon's Jeff Bezos and SpaceX's Elon Musk.

image copyrightVirgin Galactic
image captionUnity soars into the New Mexico sky

The height reached by Sir Richard in the rocket plane, known as Unity, was 85km (282,000ft; 53 miles).

The businessman was accompanied on the mission by the vehicle's two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, and three Galactic employees – Beth Moses, Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla.

The latter trio and Sir Richard were presented with commercial astronaut wings after the flight by former space station commander and Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield.

Sir Richard billed the flight as a test of the space tourism experience he expects to begin selling to customers from next year.

media caption“Today space is Virgin territory”: The moment Sir Richard Branson's rocket plane reached its highest altitude

Some 600 individuals have already paid deposits for tickets that will cost them up to $250,000 (£180,000).

These are all people who want to reach a height where they can see the sky turn black and marvel at the Earth's horizon as it curves away into the distance. Such a flight should also afford them about five minutes of weightlessness during which they will be allowed to float around inside Unity's cabin.

It's been a long road for Sir Richard to get to this point. He first announced his intention to make a space plane in 2004, with the belief he could start a commercial service by 2007.

But technical difficulties, including a fatal crash during a development flight in 2014, have made the space project one of the most challenging ventures of his career.

image copyrightVirgin Galactic
image captionAlso on the flight: Two pilots and three crewmates from Virgin Galactic

Space tourism is a sector being rekindled after a decade's hiatus, and it's about to get very competitive.

Throughout the 2000s, seven wealthy individuals paid to visit the International Space Station (ISS). But this adventurism, organised under the patronage of the Russian space agency, ceased in 2009.

Now, new initiatives abound. As well as Sir Richard's approach, there are projects coming from Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and the California tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

The Russians, too, are reprising their commercial flights to the ISS, and there are even those who want to launch private space stations for people to visit. Among these is Axiom, a company started by a former Nasa ISS programme manager.

image copyrightVIRGIN GALACTIC
image captionSir Richard floats in the cabin of his Unity rocket plane

Elon Musk travelled to New Mexico to support his friend, and following the flight Mr Bezos sent his congratulations.

There's clearly something of an edge in the Branson-Bezos relationship, however.

On Friday, the retail billionaire's Blue Origin space company had issued a tweet that took a pop at Virgin Galactic's Unity vehicle. The posting repeated a claim that anyone who flew on the rocket plane would forever have an asterisk by their name because they wouldn't reach the “internationally recognised” altitude for where space begins – the so-called Kármán line of 100km.

The US government has always recognised the boundary of space to be at about 80km (50 miles) and it awards astronaut wings to anyone who exceeds this altitude. Before Sunday, only 580 people had ever been above this height.

Unity is a sub-orbital vehicle. This means it can't achieve the velocity and altitude necessary to keep it up in space to circle the globe.

The vehicle is designed to give its passengers stunning views at the top of its climb and allow them a few minutes to experience weightlessness.

Unity is first carried by a much bigger aeroplane to an altitude of about 15km (50,000ft), where it is released.

A rocket motor in the back of Unity then ignites to blast the ship skyward.

The maximum height achievable by Unity is roughly 90km (55 miles, or 295,000ft). Passengers are allowed to unbuckle to float to a window.

Unity folds its tailbooms on descent to stabilise its fall before then gliding home.

By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent

media captionWatch Sir Richard Branson's flight to the edge of space (and back)

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson has successfully reached the edge of space on board his Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

The UK entrepreneur flew high above New Mexico in the US in the vehicle that his company has been developing for 17 years.

The trip was, he said, the “experience of a lifetime”.

He returned safely to Earth just over an hour after leaving the ground.

“I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” he said in a press conference following the flight. “The whole thing was just magical.”

The trip also makes him the first of the new space tourism pioneers to try out their own vehicles, beating Amazon's Jeff Bezos and SpaceX's Elon Musk.

image copyrightVirgin Galactic
image captionUnity soars into the New Mexico sky

The height reached by Sir Richard in the rocket plane, known as Unity, was 85km (282,000ft; 53 miles).

The businessman was accompanied on the mission by the vehicle's two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, and three Galactic employees – Beth Moses, Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla.

The latter trio and Sir Richard were presented with commercial astronaut wings after the flight by former space station commander and Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield.

Sir Richard billed the flight as a test of the space tourism experience he expects to begin selling to customers from next year.

media caption“Today space is Virgin territory”: The moment Sir Richard Branson's rocket plane reached its highest altitude

Some 600 individuals have already paid deposits for tickets that will cost them up to $250,000 (£180,000).

These are all people who want to reach a height where they can see the sky turn black and marvel at the Earth's horizon as it curves away into the distance. Such a flight should also afford them about five minutes of weightlessness during which they will be allowed to float around inside Unity's cabin.

It's been a long road for Sir Richard to get to this point. He first announced his intention to make a space plane in 2004, with the belief he could start a commercial service by 2007.

But technical difficulties, including a fatal crash during a development flight in 2014, have made the space project one of the most challenging ventures of his career.

image copyrightVirgin Galactic
image captionAlso on the flight: Two pilots and three crewmates from Virgin Galactic

Space tourism is a sector being rekindled after a decade's hiatus, and it's about to get very competitive.

Throughout the 2000s, seven wealthy individuals paid to visit the International Space Station (ISS). But this adventurism, organised under the patronage of the Russian space agency, ceased in 2009.

Now, new initiatives abound. As well as Sir Richard's approach, there are projects coming from Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and the California tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

The Russians, too, are reprising their commercial flights to the ISS, and there are even those who want to launch private space stations for people to visit. Among these is Axiom, a company started by a former Nasa ISS programme manager.

image copyrightVIRGIN GALACTIC
image captionSir Richard floats in the cabin of his Unity rocket plane

Elon Musk travelled to New Mexico to support his friend, and following the flight Mr Bezos sent his congratulations.

There's clearly something of an edge in the Branson-Bezos relationship, however.

On Friday, the retail billionaire's Blue Origin space company had issued a tweet that took a pop at Virgin Galactic's Unity vehicle. The posting repeated a claim that anyone who flew on the rocket plane would forever have an asterisk by their name because they wouldn't reach the “internationally recognised” altitude for where space begins – the so-called Kármán line of 100km.

The US government has always recognised the boundary of space to be at about 80km (50 miles) and it awards astronaut wings to anyone who exceeds this altitude. Before Sunday, only 580 people had ever been above this height.

Unity is a sub-orbital vehicle. This means it can't achieve the velocity and altitude necessary to keep it up in space to circle the globe.

The vehicle is designed to give its passengers stunning views at the top of its climb and allow them a few minutes to experience weightlessness.

Unity is first carried by a much bigger aeroplane to an altitude of about 15km (50,000ft), where it is released.

A rocket motor in the back of Unity then ignites to blast the ship skyward.

The maximum height achievable by Unity is roughly 90km (55 miles, or 295,000ft). Passengers are allowed to unbuckle to float to a window.

Unity folds its tailbooms on descent to stabilise its fall before then gliding home.


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Virgin Galactic: Sir Richard Branson rockets to the edge of space Sun, 11 Jul 2021 09:00:00 +0100-Spaceplane went into sub-orbital flight days ahead of a rival launch by Jeff Bezos.

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Richard Branson flies to edge of space in Virgin Galactic passenger rocket plane

July 11, 2021

The British entrepreneur Richard Branson has successfully flown to the edge of space and back in his Virgin Galactic passenger rocket plane, days ahead of a rival launch by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, as the billionaires compete to kick off a new era of space tourism.

Seventeen years after Branson founded Virgin Galactic to develop commercial spacecraft and cater to future space tourists, the spaceplane went into sub-orbital flight on Sunday morning, reaching 55 miles (88km) above the Earth’s surface. The launch was slightly delayed until 10.40ET due to weather conditions at the Virgin Galactic’s operational base at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert.

“Welcome to the dawn of a new space age,” Branson tweeted shortly after the flight, along with a picture of himself in zero gravity.

The long-awaited flight was the vehicle’s first fully crewed test flight to space and lasted 59 minutes from start to finish, with passengers experiencing several minutes of weightlessness.

“What a day…what a day, what a day, what a day,” he said after landing back on the tarmac to cheers. “I dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but nothing can prepare you for the view from space.”

Branson is the first of the competing “billionaire space barons” who now officially qualifies as an astronaut in the US, and the flight partly served as a huge publicity stunt for Virgin Galactic.

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Billionaire Richard Branson smiles onboard Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket plane VSS Unity. Photograph: Virgin Galactic/Reuters

Branson flew with pilots David Mackay and Michael Masucci, Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor, Virgin Galactic’s lead operations engineer Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla, a research operations and government affairs vice-president. Before take off, he arrived at the spaceport on a bicycle and greeted his crewmates with hugs. “It’s a beautiful day to go to space,” he tweeted.

Carrier plane VMS EVE, named after Branson’s late mother, hauled the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to an altitude of about 50,000ft, and then released the VSS Unity rocket plane, which climbed up further into space.

During live footage, Branson and fellow astronauts were seen strapped into seats, wearing sunglasses as they grinned. The broadcast was hosted by comedian Stephen Colbert, former Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, and future Virgin Galactic astronaut Kellie Gerardi, who will also fly up into space on a research flight in 2022.

A gathering of space industry executives, future customers and well-wishers witnessed the launch at Spaceport America, including fellow billionaire and space industry pioneer Elon Musk.

Earlier in the day, Branson tweeted a photo with Musk, saying “Big day ahead. Great to start the morning with a friend. Feeling good, feeling excited, feeling ready.”

Musk’s SpaceX, which will send its first all-civilian crew (without Musk), called Inspiration4 mission, into orbit in September, has a head start over Branson and Bezos, having already launched numerous flights to the International Space Station.

In nine days’ time, Bezos will launch his own rocket, New Shepard – named for Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut in space, which was manufactured by Bezos’s company Blue Origin.

Bezos posted a message on Instagram ahead of the flight wishing Branson “and the whole team a successful and safe flight”.

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Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket plane VSS Unity lands after reaching the edge of space above Spaceport America. Photograph: Joe Skipper/Reuters

New Shepard will take Bezos and five others, including his brother, Mark, and pilot Wally Funk, who was denied the job of astronaut in the 1960s because she was a woman, roughly 62 miles above the Earth’s surface.

On Saturday, Blue Origin tweeted a message of good luck to Virgin Galactic, after mocking the company on Friday, when it alluded to whether Unity 22 was really going into space, instead of just to the edge of space.

The boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, known as the Kármán line, has been a source of controversy for years.

Aeronatics standard setter Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the Switzerland-based world body, defines the Kármán line as the altitude of 100km (62 miles; 330,000 feet) above Earth’s mean sea level, as do several other organizations.

However, US space agency Nasa says the boundary is 50 miles, or 80 km, above sea level, with pilots, mission specialists and civilians who cross this boundary officially deemed astronauts.

Branson has sought to send a rocket into space since he founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 and aspires to create an “orbital hotel”.

Branson set a new record for the fastest boat crossing of the Atlantic ocean in 1986 and in 1987 made a record-breaking Atlantic crossing by hot-air balloon, both times having to be rescued from the sea.

An earlier prototype of the Virgin Galactic rocket plane crashed during a test flight over California’s Mojave desert in 2014, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another.

Interest in space tourism is rapidly catching on. Virgin Galactic says it has more than 600 reserved seats at $250,000 each for people who will fly in the future. The company plans to launch two additional flights before commercial service begins in 2022.


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– July 11, 2021
Virgin Galactic Sir Richard Branson rockets to the edge of space
richard branson, virgin galactic live stream, virgin galactic launch

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