And he appeared to do just that, zooming in to an altitude of just over 50 miles and giving Branson and his five teammates about three minutes of weightlessness and spectacular views of Earth before plunging back into the atmosphere for a descent. spiraling up to the landing at the launch of Virgin in New Mexico place.
“I’ve dreamed of this moment since I was a child, but honestly, nothing could prepare you for the sight of Earth from space,” Branson, 70, said after landing, at a loss for words. “It was just magic. … I just take it all, it’s unreal. “
The theft effectively eclipsed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whoof hers aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on like the two companies in the emerging commercial space market.
Bezos complimented Branson and his team after landing, posting a note on Instagram saying “Congratulations on the flight. I can’t wait to join the club! “
Branson’s journey began in dramatic fashion as Virgin’s twin-fuselage carrier plane – with the VSS Unity rocket-powered spaceplane bolted under its wing – pulled away from the company’s Spaceport America launch site. near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, at 8:40 a.m. local time. time (10:40 a.m. EDT).
Pilots David Mackay and Michael Masucci, along with Virgin Astronaut Coach Beth Moses, Flight Engineer Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla, the company’s vice president of government relations, joined the globe-trotting billionaire at edge of Unity.
With a host of reporters and a worldwide audience following on YouTube and on Virgin’s social media, the mother ship Virgin VMS Eve slowly climbed to an altitude of around 45,000 feet, then, after a final round of security checks , released Unity over the New Mexico Desert.
Seconds later, Mackay and Masucci, both veterans of previous space test flights, ignited Unity’s hybrid rocket motor, sending the crew back to their seats as the spacecraft moved forward and reared. on an almost vertical trajectory.
Burning rubberized solid propellant with liquid nitrous oxide, Unity’s hybrid motor fired for about a minute, accelerating the craft to about three times the speed of sound before stopping.
The spaceplane continued to zoom upward along a ballistic path, giving Branson and his company a chance to briefly break away, float in the cabin, and marvel at the spectacular sight as Unity reached its maximum altitude of 53.5 miles – three and a half miles above what NASA and the FAA consider the “limit” of space.
Live video from inside the spaceship showed Branson and his teammates floating out of their seats and enjoying the feeling of weightlessness, not to mention the view out of this world.
“To all the kids out there, I was once a kid with a dream staring at the stars,” Branson said as his incinerators frolic in microgravity. “Now I am an adult, in a spaceship with many other wonderful adults, looking at our beautiful, beautiful Earth.
“To the next generation of dreamers: if we can do it, imagine what you can do! He said, before floating out of his seat.
Moments later, the spacecraft then began the long dive to Earth.
Using an innovation pioneered by aircraft designer Burt Rutan, Unity’s wing and tail fins are designed to pivot upward 60 degrees once out of the atmosphere, giving the space plane l he aerodynamics of a badminton shuttlecock, ensuring a flattering entry.
Mackay and Masucci pivoted the wing up soon after shutting down the rocket motor and left it in the “feathered” orientation until it descended to about 55,000 feet when ‘it was rotated parallel to the fuselage, transforming Unity into a glider.
From there, the pilots guided the space plane down a spiral descent, lined up on Spaceport America’s 12,000-foot-long runway, and settled in for a perfect landing, wrapping up a flight that lasted 59 minutes from the take off on landing.
Mike Moses, Virgin’s president for spaceflight and security, said an initial review of the data showed Unity completed its last mission in great shape.
“We looked at the data, we did our quick engineering tour (and) the ship looks immaculate, no problem,” he said. “We’ll take our time, do all the detailed inspections, and then determine when we’re ready to go. But the ship looked perfect. “
NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the US Space Force agree that space does begin at an altitude of 50 miles where the atmosphere is so thin that the wings, rudders and other aerodynamic surfaces no longer have any effect.
As a result, Branson, Bennett and Bandla are now considered full Virgin astronauts, a distinction bestowed on Mackay, Masucci and Moses after previous test flights.
Sunday’s launch marked Unity’s 22nd test flight, its fourth space trip, the first for Virgin with a crew of six on board and the first for Branson, who beat Bezos in space. nine days.
Virgin Galactic and Bezos’ Blue Origin both plan to launch passengers on flights to the edge of space and backward and both are in the final stages of test flights before starting commercial operations.
Branson effectively blinded Bezos, scheduling Sunday’s flight just before that of Amazon founder, who had. But Branson again insisted on Sunday that he did not see the competition as a “race” for space.
“I’ve said it so many times, it really wasn’t a race,” said Branson. “We are just delighted that everything has gone so well. We wish Jeff and the people with him on his flight the best. “
Virgin is planning two more test flights, but company officials hope to start launching paying customers, at $ 250,000 or more per seat, in early 2022. Building on the success on Sunday, Branson announced a charity contest at benefit of Space for Humanity, claiming that two winners will be selected to join one of the first commercial flights.