Richard Branson’s virgin galactic spaceflight of July 11 has now kicked open the door for space tourism industry. Billionare Branson was among a lucky few to get aboard the space plane. It shows the level of confidence he had in the company. This flight has demonstrated that Virgin Galactic is now ready for passengers of space tourism.
Who is Richard Branson ?
Richard Branson is a 69 year old enterpreneur with an estimated net worth of $4.8 billion. He founded the Virgin Group which controls over 400 companies.
Branson is more of an active adventurer with a taste for thrill. In 1991, Branson traveled 10,800 km in a hot-air balloon to cross the Pacific from Japan to Arctic Canada. It traveled on a speed of 233 km/h, breaking the world record in the process.
He has similar records to his name. He doesn’t back off from investing in companies that seem too far fetched. Virgin Galactic is one of those spaceflight corporations.
How Virgin Galactic Spaceflight worked
The aircraft used for the flight is V.S.S Unity. The flight carrying Mr.Branson marked the fourth trip of Unity to space, which had a total of 22 test flights. But, it was the first with a six person crew on board.
In the infamous video of Virgin Galactic Spaceflight with Richard Branson, SpaceShipTwo was the rocket plane that we could watch. SpaceShipTwo is launched from midair at an altitude of more than 45,000 feet. To take it midair, WhiteKnightTwo is used as the carrier.
How the flight unfolded
Space enthusiasts were all hooked up on Youtube as the launch was being broadcasted all over social media. Firstly, you could see the Virgin Mothership (VMS Eve) climb to an altitude of 45,000 feet over the New Mexico desert.
For the next phase, the hybrid rocket motor of Unity was ignited. This pushed forward and pitched up the spacecraft onto a near-vertical trajectory. The powerful motor of Unity helped to accelerate the aircraft to about three times the speed of sound before shutting down. This stage lasted for a time-frame of around one minute.
The space-plane zoomed up following its trajectory and allowed the passengers to float around inside the cabin by being unstrapped. This is the million dollar view that only a selective few have ever seen. The maximum altitude of 53.5 miles above what NASA considers the boundary of space.
“To all you kids down there, I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now I’m an adult, in a spaceship with lots of other wonderful adults, looking down to our beautiful, beautiful Earth.” said Branson as the crew floated around in the cabin. After this, the descend began.
For the descend, Unity had a belly-down re-entry towards the earth. After descending to around 55,000 feet, Unity turned to a glider. The pilots then spiraled the space-plane and guided it back to the 12,000 foot Spaceport America’s runway. This concluded the Virgin Galactic Spaceflight as the crew returned back safely.
Competition in the Space Race
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin can be considered as the competitor in the suborbital space tourism business. It’s interesting to see the two billionares compete hand in hand.
Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin held its first crewed mission into space on July 20,2021 with the rocket named New Shepard. A crew of three participated which lasted for approximately 11 minutes. Concurrently, Elon Musks’ SpaceX is also in the pipeline who has been making a lot of headlines from his newly designed stainless steel rocket and also launching a bunch of satellites for internet service named starlink.
Since the 2000s, tens of millions of dollars have already been spent by the rich to fly to the International Space Station. But, space tourism as a commercial business wasn’t thought to be feasible until recently. In 2019, NASA declared that the International Space Station was open for commercial business. This has been the tipping point as a lot of private space companies will be competing to grab the niche space tourism market.
Efforts such as by the virgin galactic spaceflight marks a point in human history as the time when space tourism actually started. It’s a great promise to the future generation of space enthusiasts, researchers, etc. It’s a good thing more and more people are getting involved in the collective discovering the space and may be one day settling in a new planet.
Image: Francois Olwage