VSS Unity will take off from Spaceport America on Sunday, July 11th Virgo galactic
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, along with five other crew members, made it to the edge of space on the first fully manned test flight of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane.
On Sunday, July 7th, the VSS Unity was lifted to just under 50,000 feet from the mother ship VMS Eve before being released and firing its engines to reach the edge of space at 282.00 feet. After several minutes of weightlessness for the crew, the VSS Unity slid back to earth and landed safely on runway three of Spaceport America in New Mexico.
“It’s the experience of a lifetime,” said VSS Unity’s Branson as she returned to the spaceport.
Branson was part of a crew of six, along with three other Virgin Galactic employees and two VSS Unity pilots: Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci. This was the first time the VSS Unity has flown with a full crew and also the first time a Virgin Galactic flight has been broadcast live.
The purpose of the flight for Branson and the others was to evaluate the customer experience for those paying for a seat on future flights. At a cost of $ 250,000 per seat, future space tourists are taken to the edge of space and experience several minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth.
The altitude at which the VSS Unity flies has led rival Blue Origin to question whether Virgin Galactic flights are actually considered space flights. This is because there is no internationally agreed standard for where the Earth’s atmosphere ends and space begins. Most countries use the Kármán line to denote the limit, which is defined as 100 km above average sea level. However, other organizations, including the US Air Force, believe that the limit of space is 50 miles above sea level, which is about 80 km. The VSS Unity flies a maximum of 90 km, so it lies between these two limits. This is why you will see some people call the Virgin Galactic flight suborbital, but the crew passengers are still defined as astronauts.
After completing this test flight, the company is now planning two more test flights before opening commercial service in 2022.