Virgin Galactic: Billionaire Branson’s rocket plane finally ignites again

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Finally, billionaire Branson’s rocket plane ignites again

Richard Branson Richard Branson

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic may soon offer its first commercial mission

Source: dpa-infocom GmbH

A test flight paves the way for commercial business with space tourists. A few minutes of weightlessness are available for $450,000.

NAfter a nearly two-year flight break, British billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic is finally about to enter the future market. A final test flight of the unique rocket plane VSS Unity was successful on Thursday. The two pilots plus a crew of four experienced weightlessness for a few minutes at an altitude of over 50 kilometers. They then returned to the runway at the New Mexico Spaceport.

The first commercial mission of the company, which was founded almost 20 years ago, should therefore be imminent next month. So far, the project has always changed through setbacks and also fatal accidents delayed by many years. In July 2021, entrepreneur Branson risked his own life. The 72-year-old wanted to take off for a short trip into space shortly before the American billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and sat in the VSS Unity rocket plane, which is now being used again.

Branson won the race against Bezos and came back from space with his team safely. But not everything went smoothly. The vehicle went off course and there were reports of cracks in aircraft parts. This was followed by a temporary flight ban by the regulatory authority and a longer than expected repair and modernization break for the rocket plane and the mother plane VMS Eve.

Virgin Galactic denied there was any danger. The company relies on an unusual concept for the ascent into space: the carrier aircraft transports the rocket plane to an altitude of around 14 kilometers, where it is released and the rocket engine is ignited.

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The current flight, called Unity 25, was also not without danger. Virgin Galactic did not allow press on the mission and did not broadcast live TV images. At first there were only short Twitter messages.

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With the latest mission, the publicly traded company should now be on the verge of a breakthrough. However, the company is still in the deep red. In the first quarter alone, the loss was $159 million.

Apparently 800 tickets have already been sold

Virgin Galactic is selling a seat on the rocket plane for around $450,000. Apparently 800 tickets have already been sold. But it is only a so-called suborbital flight, i.e. a short trip into space.

Billionaire Jeff Bezos also only sells short flights into space with his space company Blue Origin. After an incident with his rocket, however, his tourist business has been on hold since September 2022. With Virgin Galactic’s most recent test flight – it was the fifth flight in total with the rocket’s ignition – Richard Branson can now celebrate a small triumph over Jeff Bezos, whose rocket is not yet ready for launch again.

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In a completely different class of space tourism, billionaire Elon Musk is playing with his space company SpaceX. Coinciding with Virgin Galactic’s test flight, Musk has transported a crew of four to the International Space Station in the second all-private mission, AX-2. This crew can experience zero gravity not just for a few minutes, but for eight days.

However, a seat in the spacious modern Dragon capsule costs an estimated 50 to 60 million dollars. In the case of two people – a man and a woman from Saudi Arabia – the state pays, so they are space tourists of a special kind.

While billionaire Branson has now found success in the space tourism sector, his rocket business has suffered a total bust this year. After the launch failure of a rocket with small satellites under the wing of a jumbo jet, his company Virgin Orbit had to file for bankruptcy. Various ambitious space companies have just bought the remains of Virgin Orbit from the bankruptcy estate. The 747 jumbo jet goes to the US company Stratolaunch, which operates the world’s largest six-engine aircraft by span.

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