When is Virgin Galactic going to space?
Virgin Galactic will broadcast the flight of its founder, Richard Branson, as the billionaire soars into space on Sunday (July 11). Space.comHow to watch Virgin Galactic launch billionaire Richard Branson to space on Sunday
Coverage starts at 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT).
Based on past Unity flights, Sunday's mission will last about 90 minutes in total, and the "weightless" phase — when the ship reaches the top of its suborbital path — will last about four minutes.
Unity 22 will be Virgin Galactic's fourth crewed spaceflight, while Bezos will be aboard the first crewed spaceflight for Blue Origin (though New Shepard has aced more than a dozen uncrewed suborbital test flights). The most recently stated price for a Virgin Galactic seat was $250,000, and more than 700 people have put down a deposit, company representatives have said.
Visit Space.com Sunday, July 11, for complete coverage of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo launch with Richard Branson.
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08 July, 2021 - 05:59pm
08 July, 2021 - 05:59pm
Sir Richard Branson has shared a sweet throwback video from 1988 in which he says he'd 'love to go to space' - three days ahead of his maiden flight with Virgin Galactic.
In the video a young Branson can be seen answering telephone questions on a TV show, where he was asked if he had 'ever thought about going into space.'
It cuts to him dressed in his Virgin Galactic flight suit, where he says 'I'd love to go into space, in fact I can think of nothing nicer, in fact I think I'll go Sunday'.
Branson was answering calls on BBC Saturday morning children's show 'Going Live!' in 1988, presented by Phillip Schofield, when a child asked him the new famous question about his future plans to become an astronaut.
The child called to ask the question of Branson, who had already had success with Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic by that point.
The billionaire went on to say to the caller: 'When you see those magnificent pictures in space and incredible views, there could be nothing nicer. If you're building a spacecraft, I'd love to come with you on it'.
Sir Richard said the call led to him registering the name 'Virgin Galactic' the next day and inspired his journey to the stars. Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004.
He will travel to space on VSS Unity on Sunday July 11, with a live stream of the event starting at 14:00 BST (09:00 ET) from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
It is one week before his 71st birthday, and he will be joined by five others on what has been dubbed the Unit 22 test flight - as it is the 22nd flight for the spaceplane.
Taken 33 years apart, Branson went from being asked if he would go to space, to actually preparing for his flight this coming Sunday
Virgin Galactic founder, Sir Richard Branson, moved his trip to space to an earlier test flight after Jeff Bezos announced he was going up, but claims no rivalry, saying 'we both wished each other well'
He will travel to space on VSS Unity on Sunday July 11, with a live stream of the event starting at 14:00 BST (09:00 ET) from Spaceport America in New Mexico
The British billionaire will launch on the next of three test flights, before commercial operations begin in 2022 from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Meanwhile, Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos will launch to the edge of space on the New Shepherd rocket on July 20 - the 52nd anniversary of the first moon landing.
Branson denied that he and Bezos were in a contest to see who would go up first, despite changing from the second to the first VSS Unity test flight.
'I just wish him and people going up with him all the very best,' he said, adding he 'looks forward to talking to him about his ride when he comes back.'
The child called to ask the question of Branson, who had already had success with Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic by that point
Ready to launch: Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos inspects New Shepard's West Texas launch facility. One seat on the flight, scheduled for July 20, has been auctioned to the highest bidder
May 2021: Sir Richard Branson's VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo rocket plane successfully launches from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
It powered to a height of 55 miles (89km) and then glided back down to Earth.
The test flight was the first with the pilots flying solo.
Summer 2021: A second test flight is due to take place with a full load to test the passenger cabin.
It is set to include the pilots plus four as yet unnamed Virgin Galactic employees. However, could Branson now be among them?
A third test flight is also planned and this is when the Virgin Galactic founder had been expected to gain his commercial astronaut wings.
It is designed to showcase the astronaut experience through the eyes of the company founder.
September 2021: First revenue generation flight with the Italian Air Force to test passenger and payload.
This flight will take both astronauts and scientific equipment to the edge of space on VSS Unity.
Early 2022: The start of full commercial flights from Spaceport America.
The dozens of Future Astronauts, who paid to fly to the edge of space, will begin earning their astronaut wings.
Branson said he and the company have spent 17 years trying to get to this point, something that 'means a lot to him,' with commercial operations starting in 2022.
It will be the fourth crewed flight of VSS Unity and only the second to include passengers in the cabin, the first saw Beth Moses go up in February 2019.
This will be the first of three final flights required to test all aspects of the cabin and passenger experience, with Branson saying he got 'truly excited' when the final safety checks cam through and he was asked if he wanted to go into space.
The British billionaire said his wife may be nervous about the launch but he himself wasn't the least bit afraid.
'I've been looking forward to this for 17 years,' Branson said from Spaceport America near the remote town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
He said pre-flight preparations only add to the excitement ahead of Sunday's scheduled launch, which will be taking place one week before his 71st birthday.
'Every bit about it is a pinch-me moment,' he added.
The launch of Virgin Galactic VSS Unity rocket plane over the desert will mark the space tourism company's fourth crewed test mission beyond Earth's atmosphere.
But it will be the first to carry a full complement of space travellers, consisting of Branson, two pilots and three mission specialists.
Branson has been styled as Astronaut 001 for the first full-cabin flight along with a number of top Virgin Galactic employees.
He will travel with Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Beth Moses, Lead Operations Engineer Colin Bennett and Vice President of Government Affairs Sirisha Bandla.
They will fly along with pilots David Mackay, Michael Masucci up front of the VSS Unity spaceship.
It has been dubbed Unity 22, as it is the 22nd total test flight for Virgin Galactic.
A photo shows the release of VSS Unity from VMS Eve and ignition of rocket motor over Spaceport America, New Mexico
Unity will be launched at an altitude of about 50,000 feet from a Virgin Galactic carrier plane known as VMS Eve, then soar on its own rocket power to the boundary of space - just over 50 miles above the Earth's surface.
When at this point the crew will experience about four minutes of weightlessness before beginning a descent back to Earth.
The trip is not without the inherent hazards of spaceflight. An earlier prototype of the rocket plane crashed during a 2014 test flight over California's Mojave Desert, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other.
Asked how his family reacted to the news last week that he would join Sunday's crew, Branson said his children - adventurous like him - were excited, but suggested his wife, Joan, while supportive, was more wary.
Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor, who flew to space on the company's second spaceflight mission will be on board
Colin Bennett, the company's lead operations engineer, will also join the flight
Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic's vice president of government affairs and research operations
'My wife is the sort of person who would be terrified on a Virgin Atlantic airplane,' he said, adding 'she's the last person who would want to do something like this.'
'But she's known me since I tried to balloon across the Atlantic or the Pacific or around the world, and she still seems to love us.'
He laughed as he quoted his wife telling him: 'If you're foolish enough to do these wonderful things, you can do it, but I won't be going to your funeral.''
By joining the flight on July 11, Branson has positioned himself to beat rival entrepreneur Jeff Bezos into space by nine days.
Virgin Galactic´s Richard Branson is set to beat Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos being the first to blast off into space on their July 11 flight. Branson is pictured in 2019
Dubbed the 'NewSpace' set, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk all say they were inspired by the first moon landing in 1969, when the US beat the Soviet Union in the space race, and there is no doubt how much it would mean to each of them to win the 'new space race'.
Bezos, founder of the retail giant Amazon, as well as space firm Blue Origin, will be on board the suborbital flight of the New Shepard spacecraft on July 20.
Mercury 13 was an all female 'women in space' program that, despite having the support of NASA never launched an astronaut into space.
As well as Bezos and Mary Wallace Funk, a member of Blue Origin staff and the winner of a $28 million auction to go up on the New Shepherd.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, along with Elon Musk's SpaceX, are competing head-to-head in the emerging space tourism business.
The first of the two will be directly competing to take paying passengers to the edge of space in a sub-orbital flight, allowing them to earn their astronaut wings.
They will also be competing to send science payloads and researchers up so they can test their experiments while in a low gravity environment.
Branson denied he and Bezos were in a contest to see who would go up first.
'I just wish him and people going up with him all the very best. I look forward to talking to him about his ride when he comes back,' Branson said of Bezos. 'I spoke to him two or three weeks ago, and we both wished each other well.'
Success for both ventures is considered key to fostering a burgeoning industry that aims to eventually make space tourism mainstream.
Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity, piloted by CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, is released from its mothership, VMS Eve, on the way to its first spaceflight after launch from Spaceport America, New Mexico in May
Blue Origins is launching Bezos, Wally Funk and others to the edge of space on July 20, the first test flight with a crew on board
Virgin has said two additional test flights of its vehicle after the one on July 11 are planned before the company begins commercial service in 2022.
This will include another full cabin experience test, as well as a flight taking up a crew from the Italian airforce.
Branson said he anticipates offering paid flights on a 'regular basis' next year, which will come as a relief for the 600 'future astronaut' ticket holders who have waited over a decade for the opportunity to go into space.
Namira Salim, one of the earliest future astronaut ticket holders, wished Sir Richard Branson good luck. She said the firm was helping to fulfil her childhood dream of going into space, first formed as a little girl from Pakistan.
'I wish you all the very best in skyrocketing as the first private spaceline in the world. Richard you have delivered your promise and you are our ace of space,' she said.
Branson said he was confident there was plenty of room in the market for his venture and Bezos' company to compete.
'Neither of us are going to be able to build enough spaceships to satisfy the demand,' Branson said.
Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch.
Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo.
WhiteKnightTwo is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres).
The first WhiteKnightTwo, VMS Eve - which Virgin Galactic has used on all of its test flights - was rolled-out in 2008 and has a high-altitude, heavy payload capacity.
Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch. Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Once SpaceShipTwo has propelled itself into space its engines shut off for a period of weightlessness before returning home
Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space.
Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity - the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights - though the firm is expected to build more in future.
Once released from WhiteKnightTwo, SpaceShipTwo's rocket motor engages 'within seconds', according to Virgin Galactic.
The craft will then fly approximately three and a half times the speed of sound (2,600mph/4,300kph) into suborbital space, reaching up to 360,890ft (110,000 metres) above the Earth's surface.
WhiteKnightTwo (artist's impression) is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres)
This altitude is defined as beyond the edge of outer space by Nasa.
After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, the pilots will shut it down, and passengers can then take off their seatbelts to experience weightlessness for several minutes.
The pilots will manoeuvre the spaceship to give the best possible views of Earth and space while raising the vehicle's wings to its 'feathered' re-entry configuration, which decelerates the craft and stabilises its descent.
As gravity pulls the spaceship back towards the Earth's upper atmosphere, astronauts will return to their seats ready to return to our planet.
At around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres), after re-entry, the pilot will return the spaceship's wings to their normal configuration, ready to glide back to Earth for a smooth runway landing.
Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured) - the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights - though the firm is expected to produce more in future
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Watch live as Richard Branson flies to the edge of space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane on Sunday
08 July, 2021 - 05:59pm
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The company has flown people on its reusable, winged rocket plane, called SpaceShipTwo, three times since December 2018. But two of those flights involved only Virgin Galactic pilots. Only one of the flights carried a passenger.
On Sunday, the SpaceShipTwo plane, called VSS Unity, is set to carry the company's first full crew more than 50 miles above the Earth.
The vehicle requires two pilots and has room for six passengers. For this journey, the pilots will be Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci, and they'll carry Branson and his three crewmates: Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, the company's lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the vice president of government affairs and research.
If the flight goes as planned, Branson would be the first person to launch to space aboard his own company's commercial vehicle. Jeff Bezos plans to do the same thing a mere nine days later.
"I can't wait," Branson told Today. "At that moment, we will have become astronauts. I will pinch myself and pinch myself again and again."
Virgin Galactic will broadcast Branson's VSS Unity flight on Youtube. The livestream, embedded below, is set to start at 9 a.m. ET on Sunday.
If all goes according to plan, the VSS Unity will lift off from Virgin Galactic's facilities at Spaceport America in New Mexico aboard a mothership called VMS Eve.
The mothership, a double-bodied plane, will carry the VSS Unity about 10 miles above sea level, then drop it. The space plane must immediately fire its rocket engines, tilt almost directly upwards, and accelerate to about three times the speed of sound to reach the edge of space, about 55 miles above sea level.
There, the pilots are expected to shut off the VSS Unity's engines and allow the plane to drift above the Earth. The four crew members, who are standing in as passengers in order to test the spaceflight experience, should feel weightless. Through the space plane's 17 windows, they'll be able to see the curvature of the Earth below. They'll linger there for just a few minutes before gravity begins to pull them back down.
For the return trip, VSS Unity is designed to rotate its wings and tail booms upwards. This helps the plane brake itself against the atmosphere as it plunges back to Earth. About 10 miles above the ground — the altitude where the mothership dropped it off — the vehicle should rotate its wings back in place so it can glide to a runway landing.
Branson originally planned to ride SpaceShipTwo to the edge of space in 2014 or 2015. But Virgin Galactic had to delay those plans after its first version of the vehicle, called VSS Enterprise, broke apart mid-flight above the Mojave desert in October 2014, killing one pilot and injuring the other.
Since Virgin Galactic began testing VSS Unity in 2016, its flight record has been successful.
The company aims to start flying tourists on the space plane next year. Already, more than 700 people have signed up, including Tom Hanks, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga, Today reported.
"I truly believe that space belongs to all of us," Branson said in a statement. "As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I'm honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin."
08 July, 2021 - 09:31am
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Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart discusses the emerging leisure space travel market ahead of Richard Branson flying to space just nine days before Jeff Bezos.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson teased in a special edition of his LinkedIn newsletter Thursday that he is ready to turn "dream into reality" with Sunday's suborbital spaceflight aboard the aerospace company's VSS Unity 22 spacecraft.
"I’ve wanted to go to space ever since I was a young boy and watched the moon landings from our black and white television set. When commercial spaceflights did not look likely for my generation, I registered the name Virgin Galactic with the hope of creating a company that could make it happen," Branson explained Thursday. "17 years later and I’m thrilled that Virgin Galactic is at the vanguard of this new space age that I’ve been dreaming about for so long."
According to Virgin Galactic, Sunday's spaceflight will be "testing the private astronaut experience." One of the main objectives will be to evaluate the "commercial customer cabin with a full crew," including the cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience, and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers, in order to ensure "every moment of the astronaut’s journey maximizes the wonder and awe created by space travel.
The VSS Unity and its mothership VMS Eve – named after Branson's mother – will climb together to an altitude just below 50,000 feet before the spaceship is released and its rocket ignites, sending the craft up "a little over Mach 3" to approximately 300,000 feet above Earth.
Branson says his role in Sunday's mission will be to "validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin."
He will be joined Virgin Galactic chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, lead operations engineer Colin Bennett, government affairs vice president Sirisha Bandla and pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci. Pilots C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer will fly VMS Eve.
"At Virgin Galactic, we believe that the answers to many of the challenges we face in sustaining life on our beautiful but fragile planet, lie in making better use of space. From space, we are able to look with a new perspective both outward and back. From space it is clear that there is much more that unites than divides us," Branson continued. "However, it’s one thing to dream about making space more accessible to all; it’s quite another turn that dream into reality. This has been an enormous and an incredible team effort, and I’m so grateful for everyone who has helped build this unique program."
Virgin Galactic's flight, which will be livestreamed on LinkedIn beginning Sunday at 9 a.m., comes nine days ahead of Blue Origin's first crewed flight aboard its New Shepard rocket on July 20, which will include founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, 82-year-old female aerospace pioneer Mary Wallace Funk, and a mystery auction winner who paid $28 million.
Following Sunday's mission, Branson says he will make an announcement to "give more people the chance to become an astronaut."
Shares of Virgin Galactic are up about 3% during Thursday's trading session as of the time of publication.
08 July, 2021 - 08:30am
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Crew members of the inaugural flight of the VSS Unity, including Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson (fourth from the left). Image source: Virgin Galactic.
The VSS Unity spacecraft. Image source: Virgin Galactic.
The current elevated value of Virgin Galactic's stock suggests it has already priced in some of the launch hype, but there's still more room to run. With continual technological advancements, space tourism will become more and more affordable over the next decade -- creating greater demand. Consider this stock a very long-term investment that could pay off handsomely by the mid-2030s or so. Also, keep in mind that the company's fleet is still tiny at this stage and that there are pitfalls still to navigate for the company. There would be little recourse for investors if a Challenger-type disaster were to happen involving a Virgin Galactic spacecraft.
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