It looked first as an impossible project. But after a new, successful test flight, Virgin Galactic is more real than ever.
English billionaire and entrepreneur Richard Branson has been told countless times that his dreams are too big. Each time he has announced a new business venture, the world has thought that Branson was going a step too far. Never was this more true than in 2004, when he announced Virgin Galactic, a division of his conglomerate Virgin Group which sought to take aircrafts to outer space, for the mere sake of tourism.
While the first timeline to make orbit was announced in 2008, the deadlines was postponed multiple times, until a disaster made it seem that Branson would put his dreams on hold. In 2014, SpaceShipTwo (SS2) suffered a fatal flaw during a test flight, causing it to crash in Mojave, California. One of the two crew members was killed, and it was thought that Virgin Galactic would be taking a step back.
This, however, was not the case. Branson put his team to back to work on another version of SS2. On Thursday, July 26, it took off supported by his impulse plane, the futuristic WhiteKnightTwo (WK2).
The VSS Unity, the name of the SS2 when coupled with the WK2, took off from Mojave. The SS2 successfully detached itself from the mother ship, managing a height of 52 kilometers and reaching the mesosphere, the layer of the atmosphere located just above the stratosphere.
The flight, piloted by Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci, reached 2.47 times the speed of sound.
Branson does not believe in limits. When he founded the Virgin Group, he did it with a modest recording studio that soon became a massive record label. Since then, the number of times he has been told to stop has been countless. But he has not stopped, and on the contrary, the Virgin Group is constantly expanding its spectrum, venturing into real estate, mobile telephony, gyms, and even alcoholic beverages.
Branson’s nature is to be ahead of his time, to the extent that he sometimes seems to be jumping fences. With this philosophy, Virgin Galactic was a logical step. Today, his space tourism project is more robust than ever before.
The success of SS2 is an important step to materialize the space tourism business, but more is still needed. Virgin Galactic wants its ship to reach the thermosphere, at a height of 110 kilometers.
The cost of this trip through outer space, which an estimated 800 people have already signed up for, is $250 thousand. This is the equivalent of spending $ 1,666 per second on a two and a half hour flight. Richard Branson sits on the top of the list, unsurprisingly.
If you want to book a flight on Virgin Galactic, hope that the waiting list is not too long: the SS2 has room for only six passengers, in addition to the crew. According to the company, the highlight for passengers will be be to floating in the ship once it has escaped Earth’s gravity. This would only last about 30 minutes, but it would undoubtedly be an amazing experience. ■
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