Virgin Galactic plans to complete its first full-crew space test flight on Sunday, and company co-founder Richard Branson will be on board. This opening shot for commercial space tourism, which Virgin Galactic wants to be a part of, can also be followed in the live stream via a short tour. The mission is scheduled to begin at 4:30 PM Central European Summer Time.
In space at Mach 3 – depending on the definition of the limit
A carrier aircraft is taking off from Spaceport America in the US state of New Mexico and docked the rocket-powered space glider VSS Unity. On board are two pilots and three crew members, as well as Richard Branson. This test mission, dubbed “Unity 22”, aims to simulate a tourist spaceflight with a full crew for the first time – the latter will seat four paying passengers. Recently, Virgin Galactic completed a test flight again in May this year after a break of more than two years.
Approximate sequence: The carrier aircraft climbs to an altitude of just over 13 kilometers in a good 50-minute flight. There the space glider shuts down and ignites its rocket engine for 60 seconds. In this minute it accelerates to a height of 90 km, more than three times the speed of sound. Although this altitude is above the US definition of a space limit of 50 miles (80.5 km), it is well below the internationally recognized 100 km limit. After a few minutes, the glider automatically returns to Spaceport America.
Virgin Galactic has also started the countdown on its website. Initially, CEST was announced at 3 pm, but now the counter states 4.30 pm as the new time. The live stream can be followed on Youtube. American talk show host Steven Colbert will comment on the program.
Billionaire Rivals in Competition
Branson’s participation came as a surprise: the British entrepreneur and billionaire really only wanted to board the next test flight. But with the date of July 11, he is ahead of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. He announced that his company’s Blue Origin rocket would also fly into space (and reach an altitude of 100 km) on July 20. Branson dismissed competition with Bezos as the reason for the initial flight, but the short period between test flights also drew criticism.