Virgin Galactic accomplished what is predicted to be its final test flight Thursday before taking paying customers on temporary trips to space, marking what the space tourism company described as a “unbelievable achievement” in what has been a protracted road to business operations.
Six of the corporate’s employees, including two pilots, landed at Spaceport America in southern Latest Mexico after the short up-and-down flight that included just a few minutes of weightlessness.
It took about an hour for the mother ship to hold the spaceplane to an altitude of 44,500 feet, where it was released and fired its rocket motor to make the ultimate push.
“Successful boost, WE HAVE REACHED SPACE!” Virgin Galactic tweeted.
It reached an altitude of 54.2 miles before gliding back right down to the runway, in response to the corporate.
Jamila Gilbert, who grew up in southern Latest Mexico and leads the corporate’s internal communications, was amongst those on board who were evaluating what it would be like for paying customers.
It was hard for her to place the experience into words, saying it probably will take a lifetime to process the sights and the emotions that filled those moments between the rocket igniting and the spaceship reaching its highest point.
“It was just this magnetic pull,” she said in an interview. “Once I began searching, I could feel that I used to be floating. I could hear voices. But I couldn’t stop the planet, and I couldn’t look away.”
Fellow crew member Christopher Huie said it seems as if every little thing stopped when the spaceship was released from the carrier plane.
“You’re just waiting for the rocket to light,” said Huie, an aerospace engineer. “And I believe that moment had a lot anticipation, and I could have lived in that moment without end.”
Then got here somewhat jostle with the firing of the rocket, and the crew were pinned to their seats because the G-forces kicked in.
The flight got here nearly two years after founder Richard Branson beat fellow billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and rocket company Blue Origin into space.
Bezos ended up flying nine days later from West Texas, and Blue Origin has since launched several passenger trips. Federal aviation authorities banned Virgin Galactic launches after Branson’s flight to analyze a mishap.
Virgin Galactic has been working for greater than a decade to send paying passengers on short space hops and in 2021 finally won the federal government’s approval.
The following step will likely be for Virgin Galactic to research data from Thursday’s flight and inspect the planes and other equipment as the corporate prepares for business service, possibly as soon as late June.
Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier has acknowledged the delays and missed deadlines over time.
But on Thursday, he said seeing the crew’s reactions after landing gave him confidence in what the corporate has built to date.
The initial business flight will include members of the Italian Air Force who will conduct experiments. Next will come customers who purchased tickets years ago for his or her likelihood at weightlessness aboard a winged spacecraft that launches from the belly of an airplane.
About 800 tickets have been sold over the past decade, with the initial batch going for $200,000 each. Tickets now cost $450,000 per person.
Virgin Galactic has reached space five times since 2018 and will likely be aiming for 400 flights per 12 months from Spaceport America once it finishes constructing its next class of rocket-powered planes at a facility in neighboring Arizona.
After Branson’s trip, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded flights because it investigated an issue that caused the rocket ship to veer off track during its descent back to its runway within the Latest Mexico desert.
Virgin Galactic insisted on the time that Branson and others were never in any danger.
The corporate made changes to its carrier airplane and the spaceplane.
The delay was nearly twice so long as expected, partly due to supply chain issues and labor shortages.
Branson joined a bunch of shoppers who watched Thursday’s flight from Spaceport America.
Huie, a senior manager with Virgin Galactic’s flight sciences engineering team, said the corporate is prepared for business service and will likely be expanding its fleet over the approaching years.
“We’re seeking to scale up in an enormous way,” he said, “and the goal is to populate a number of spaceports with a number of spaceships and motherships and send tons of of individuals every 12 months to space.”
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