What is Virgin Galactic, how much will it cost to fly into space and when was Sir Richard Branson’s venture launch?
THE sky is no longer the limit for a host of entrepreneurs who are vying to offer the first tourist trip into space.
Here’s what we know about Virgin Galactic, and when it made its first successful flight.
What is Virgin Galactic?
Intrepid explorers are lining up – and digging deep – to travel into space with Virgin Galactic.
British billionaire Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, initially predicted the maiden space flight would launch by 2009.
But the date has been repeatedly pushed back after technical problems.
A successful maiden flight finally took place in mid-December 2018.
If all goes to plan, space fans will be launched more than 50 miles above Earth – a point at which Nasa define travellers as astronauts.
Passengers will ride aboard SpaceShipTwo, a spaceplane designed to carry six passengers and two pilots.
It is carried aloft by a large aeroplane before breaking away and zooming to an altitude of about 62 miles.
In 2016, the late Professor Stephen Hawking unveiled Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo craft, called VSS Unity, after the first SpaceShipTwo craft VSS Enterprise crashed during tests in 2014.
Virgin Galactic is up against fierce competition in the private space race from firms such as Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
How much will it cost to fly into space?
With a hefty price tag of $250,000 (£175,000) a ticket, the 90-minute flight is being aimed at wealthy celebrities and thrillseekers, as well as researchers.
Branson has said that “ultimately” he would like to see the price fall as low as $40,000 (£30,700) over the next decade.
And there’s already a deluge of 700 celebrities and scientists desperate to get a chance to board the spacecraft – including Hollywood A-listers Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio.
VIRGIN GALACTIC IN DATES
2004: Branson founds Virgin Galactic and says the first launch will take place in 2007
2007: Testing of SpaceShipTwo but three workers die in an explosion during the event. The $250m spaceport, Spaceport America is agreed to be built in New Mexico
2008: Sir Richard says the first voyage will take place within 18 months
2009: Sir Richard says that flights will take place from Spaceport America within two years
2010: Virgin Galactic hire Nasa’s chief of staff, George Whitesides, as its new chief executive
2014: Sir Richard predicts the first commercial flight will take place in early 2015. A fatal accident occurs during a test launch of SpaceShipTwo
2016: Test flights of SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, continue
2018: VSS Unity coasted through the black sky and into space, making history as the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011. SpaceShipTwo landed from her maiden spaceflight on December 13, 2018
2019: On February 22, Virgin Galactic reached space for the second time in ten weeks with three people on board, reaching three times the speed of light on the way up
2019: Virgin Galactic drops a space rocket from custom Boeing 747 over California in first successful “launch” test on July 11
When did Richard Branson’s spaceship first launch?
After years of fine-tuning, Branson successfully reached space for the first time on December 13, 2018.
SpaceShipTwo’s Unity plane flew higher than ever before in a test that marked a huge step toward Sir Richard’s goal of firing paying customers into space this year.
The flight, launched from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 3:15pm GMT, soared to an altitude of 50 miles above Earth’s surface strapped to a carrier plane called WhiteKnightTwo.
It successfully separated from its mother ship around 45 minutes after liftoff and engaged its rocket thrusters, reaching speeds of Mach 2.9.
SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor burnt for 60 seconds before shutting off, carrying the space plane to a top altitude of 51.4 miles, according to Virgin Galactic.
The feat marked the first time the company had reached the boundary of space as defined by the US Air Force and other US agencies.
Virgin Galactic announced on Twitter: “SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space.”
Although Branson has said he wants his first trip to space to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, July 20, 1969, that hasn’t panned out.
In February 2019, the company took a step closer to its goal of suborbital flights for space tourists when its rocket plane soared to the edge of space with a test passenger for the first time.