Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson Wins Billionaire Space Race

Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson Wins Billionaire Space Race

British billionaire Richard Branson finally got his trip to space on Sunday.

Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane, the VSS Unity, landed safely in New Mexico after soaring more than 80 km above ground in its highly anticipated first fully crewed test flight. You can check out a recording of the livestreamed event on the company’s YouTube channel.

“We’re here to make space more accessible to all,” the Virgin Galactic founder said shortly after the flight touched down. “If you ever had a dream, now is the time to make it come true. I’d like to end by saying welcome to the dawn of a new space age.”

The launch began at 10:30 a.m. ET, a 90-minute delay from its originally scheduled time thanks to strong winds the night before that interfered with ground operations. Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft VMS Eve (named for Branson’s late mother) hauled the VSS Unity up to its high-altitude launch point at around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres). After separating, the spaceplane ignited its own hybrid rocket motor and soared to an altitude of 86.1 kilometres before gliding back down to a runway landing at Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic said in a news release.

At the top of its flight path, the crew, which included two pilots and three mission specialists alongside Branson, experienced a few minutes of weightlessness.

“I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars,” said Branson during the broadcast as his crewmates could be seen floating behind him and celebrating. “Now I’m an adult in a spaceship… looking down to our beautiful, beautiful Earth. To the next generation of dreamers: If we can do this, just imagine what you can do.”

The roughly hour-long flight marks a huge milestone for Virgin Galactic, which aims to begin commercial operations as early as next year. Other billionaire aspiring astronauts shared in the excitement. Branson snapped a photo with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk ahead of Sunday’s launch, who has already bought a ticket for his own trip to space aboard Virgin Galactic’s plane. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is set to make his first journey to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on July 20, congratulated Branson and co. on Instagram for the successful flight, adding: “Can’t wait to join the club!”

Virgin Galactic is also offering a chance for anyone to win a trip aboard its spaceplane as well. After coming back down to Earth on Sunday, Branson announced a partnership with charity fundraising platform Omaze to open a sweepstakes that will send the winner and one guest to space on the VSS Unity for free. If you were to try to buy tickets for the same flight, it’d cost you about half a million dollars since they’re going for roughly $US250,000 ($334,000) a pop. The winner will also receive a tour of Spaceport America led by Branson himself. The sweepstakes, which runs until September 1, will raise money for Space for Humanity, a nonprofit working to democratise space travel.

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