Virgin Galactic officially enters space tourism with first commercial flight

Virgin Galactic officially enters space tourism with first commercial flight

Richard Branson’s space tourism desires have become reality as Virgin Atlantic rocketed out of Earth’s orbit last week on its first commercial flight.

Two Italian air force colonels and an aeropsace engineer experienced Virgin Galactic’s ship VSS Unity hitting an altitude of 85 kilometres alongside an instructor and the plane’s two pilots on the 90-minute flight. At the peak of the trip, the crew enjoyed a few minutes of low-gravity and presented an Italian flag before the aircraft ventured back towards the runway at Spaceport America in Texas. The whole trip was livestreamed around the world.

“Welcome to space, astronauts,” said Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s vice-president of government affairs and research operations during the live stream of the launch.

This flight comes as a decisive moment for Branson’s space tourism venture as it finally makes its move into operating commercial service after the billionaire founded it in 2004. While it was the first flight to carry paying passengers, it’s the sixth piloted sub-orbital space flight by Virgin Galactic.

So far, the tourism brand has sold 800 tickets for trips to space, with costs going up to $450,000 per seat. Virgin Galactic plans on hosting a fleet that can operate 400 flights per annum.

This flight comes five years after Branson himself flew on Unity alongside five other Virgin Galactic personnel on a test flight in July 2021.

While this flight was a tourism venture, it was also billed as a scientific operation. One of the astronauts wore a suit that measured physiological responses and biometric data, while another conducted tests using sensors that tracked heart rate, brain function and other metrics in microgravity. Another astronaut looked at how some liquids and solids mix in that environment.

“This flight showcases our distinctive spaceflight system, which allows researchers to fly with their experiments, and our capacity to offer regular access to space for the science and technology community,” Bandla said.

Branson’s commercial venture into space joins the likes of Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin, and Elon Musk with SpaceX.

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