Sir Richard Branson flies to space in Virgin Galactic rocket with plans to sell commercial travel by next year

Virgin Galactic plans to open space travel to customers in 2022 subject to data reviews and flight tests

Sir Richard Branson flies to space in Virgin Galactic rocket with plans to sell commercial travel by next year

Virgin Galactic plans to open space travel to customers in 2022 subject to data reviews and flight tests 

Space travel is something you see in movies. But Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson defied the odds as he took off to space onboard his Virgin Galactic rocket on 11 July. The UK entrepreneur billed the flight as a test of the space tourism experience that he plans to sell to customers next year, in what he calls the experience of a lifetime.  

Sir Richard Branson has beaten his competitors, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and SpaceX’s Elon Musk, as the first of the new space tourism pioneers to try out their own vehicles. The rocket plane, known as Unity, reaching an altitude of nearly 90 km above the earth after its launch on Sunday. “I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” Sir Richard Branson said in a press conference following the flight. “The whole thing was just magical.” 

The businessman was accompanied by his two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, and his three-member crew including Beth Moses, Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla. The rocket returned to Earth safely just over an hour after leaving the ground. The crew were later presented with commercial astronaut wings after the flight by former space station commander and Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield. 

“I’ve had my notebook with me and I’ve written down 30 or 40 little things that will make the experience for the next person who goes to space with us that much better,” he said. “The only way sometimes you can find these little things is to get in a spaceship and go to space and experience it for yourself.” 

Some 600 individuals have already paid deposits for tickets for Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight, costing them up to $250,000 (£180,000). The experience will allow customers to see the sky turn black and witness the Earth’s horizon in the distance. The flight will allow five minutes of weightlessness during which customers will be allowed to float inside Unity’s cabin. 

Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor served as cabin lead and test director in space, overseeing the safe and efficient execution of the test flight objectives. Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer was in charge of evaluating cabin equipment, procedures, and experience during both the boost phase and in the weightless environment. Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic evaluated the human-tended research experience, using an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes activated at various points in the flight profile. Founder of Virgin Galactic Sir Richard Branson took to the skies to evaluate the private astronaut experience, and the company will use his observations from his flight training and spaceflight experience to enhance the journey for all future astronaut customers.  

Sir Richard Branson first announced his intention to launch space travel in 2004, with plans to start commercial service by 2007. However, technical difficulties including a fatal crash during a development flight in 2014 made the project challenging. The team will complete inspections of the vehicles and an extensive data review, which will inform the next steps in the test flight program. There will be two additional test flights before plans to launch commercial service in 2022. 

Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: Our next flight-the 22ndflight test for VSS Unity and our first fully crewed flight test-is a testament to the dedication and technical brilliance of our entire team, and I’d like to extend a special thank you to our pilots and mission specialists, each of whom will be performing important work. Tapping into Sir Richard’s expertise and long history of creating amazing customer experiences will be invaluable as we work to open the wonder of space travel and create awe-inspiring journeys for our customers. 

Sir Richard Branson said: I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good. It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality. 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. 

Virgin Galactic is giving the public a chance to win two seats in one of its first commercial space flights – and all proceeds will go to non-profit Space For Humanity.

Latifa Yedroudj
Latifa Yedroudj

Share via
Copy link