Branson’s Billion Dollar Blast! Virgin Galactic spaceplane successfully lifts off from New Mexico runway in company’s first commercial space mission
- Virgin Galactic successfully launched its first commercial flight on Thursday
- The mission took four people more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface
Richard Branson officially enters the space tourism race for billionaires after launching Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight.
The “mothership,” an aircraft carrier, and spaceplane took off from Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico at 10:45 a.m. ET, and the pair will separate moments later when an altitude of 12,000 feet is reached.
The crew includes three Italian Air Force-funded passengers and one of the company’s astronaut instructors who previously flew with Branson in 2021.
The flight marks a defining moment for Virgin Galactic, which was founded in 2004 for the purpose of space tourism and is valued at $1.31 billion, as it enters commercial service after several years of development setbacks.
The mothership and spaceplane took off from Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico at 10:45 a.m. ET, and the pair parted ways moments later — the company didn’t start the livestream until 11 a.m. when the spaceship was released
Unlike Branson’s rivals, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, this flight was not crewed by wealthy individuals or celebrities shelling out hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars for the experience.
The focus of the Galactic 01 mission was for the crew to test 13 zero-gravity experiments, which were collected biometric data, measured cognitive performance, and recorded how certain liquids and solids mix in microgravity conditions.
However, the tickets cost $ 250,000 each, but Virgin Galactic has raised the price to $ 450,000.
Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Blue Origin use rockets to launch capsules into space, while Branson chose to take a different approach with airborne launches.
Once Virgin Galactic’s planes reach an altitude of about 12,000 feet, the mothership releases the spaceplane, which will then blast toward the final frontier.
The technique has been explored over decades of flight research, including the X-1, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier, and the X-15, the fastest piloted aircraft ever flown, reaching a top speed of 4,520 miles per hour during a 1967 flight.
And it reduces the need for massive amounts of fuel because the craft doesn’t use the rocket’s power to crawl through the dense lower atmosphere.
The crew included three Italian Air Force-funded passengers and one of the company’s astronaut instructors (right), who previously flew with Branson in 2021
Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane was powered by two pilots while the four passengers sat in the cabin waiting for space.
For Italian Air Force Colonel Walter Villadei, designated commander, the flight aboard the spaceplane was part of his astronaut training for a future mission to the International Space Station.
Joining him on Thursday are two Italian colleagues: Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi, a physician and flight surgeon, and Pantaleone Carlucci, a research board member who acts as a flight engineer and cargo specialist.
The crew was completed by their Virgin Galactic trainer, Colin Bennett, the company’s lead “astronaut instructor,” and Unity’s two pilots, Michael Masucci and Nicola Pecile.
One of the Italian researchers wore a special suit that measures biometrics and physiological responses, while another performed tests using sensors to track heart rate, brain function and other metrics in microgravity.
And the third studied how certain liquids and solids mix in that very weak gravity.
The gleaming white spaceplane is designed to detach from its twin-hulled mothership and then fall away as the pilots ignite the vehicle’s engine to send the rocketship into a near-vertical climb at about three times the speed of sound to the darkness of space.