29 June 2023

Virgin Galactic successfully blasts off to edge of space

29 June 2023

Virgin Galactic has blasted off to the edge of space, marking the company’s first commercial spaceflight.

After reaching an altitude of around 50,000 feet at 4.30pm UK time, the mothership, VMS Eve, released the rocket plane called VSS Unity with three Italian astronauts on board.

Those inside the spaceship unfurled an Italian flag after reaching a state of weightlessness, having been given the all-clear to unbuckle and “enjoy” zero gravity for a few minutes.

They then returned to their seats and strapped themselves back in ahead of the return journey.

Around 15 minutes later, the crew, including an astronaut instructor, landed safely back on Earth at Spaceport America in New Mexico, having conducted 13 scientific experiments.

British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic tweeted: “Welcome back to Earth, #Galactic01! Our pilots, crew and spaceship have landed smoothly at @Spaceport_NM.”

He later said it was a “historic moment”, writing in Italian “what a fantastic flight!” and “well done”.

One of the astronauts wore a special suit that measured biometric data and physiological responses.

Another conducted tests using sensors to track heart rate, brain function and other metrics while in microgravity.

A third experiment assessed how certain liquids and solids mix in that environment.

The spaceflight, dubbed Galactic 01, lasted 90 minutes, with the plane’s touchdown on the runway prompting cheers and claps by Virgin Galactic staff.

The company will eventually be taking paying customers on spaceflights, and says it has sold around 800 tickets over the past 10 years.

While they initially went on sale for 200,000 dollars (£158,000) each, tickets now cost 450,000 dollars (£356,000) per person.

The company said early fliers have already received their seat assignments.

Thursday’s spaceflight came a month after Sir Richard’s Virgin Orbit announced it was ceasing operations months after a mission failure in the UK.

In January, the company based in California sought to complete the first satellite launch from UK soil, with hopes the mission would be a major stepping stone for space exploration from the UK.

But the LauncherOne rocket failed to reach orbit and saw its payload of US and UK intelligence satellites dive into the ocean.

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