By Editor-June 30th, 2023.
Virgin Galactic’s first commercial space flight took off and landed smoothly yesterday — to sighs of relief from all concerned.
The Richard Branson-owned space tourism company successfully launched a team of Italian researchers into orbit, where they were able to take off their seatbelts and spend a few minutes weightless as the aircraft went close to the edges of the earth’s atmosphere.
The Italian scientists gave each other fist bumps while hooting and hollering in celebration after the “mothership” reached an apex of 53 miles, or 279,000 feet, above the surface of the Earth.
Col. Walter Villadei, a space engineer with the Italian Air Force, celebrated by unfolding an Italian flag while weightless.
“Che volo fantastico! An historic moment – @virgingalactic’s first commercial spaceflight completed. Ben fatto,” Branson tweeted after the craft’s safe return — which translates into “What a fantastic flight” and “Well done.”
The cheers helped calm many on social media who were concerned by another extreme expedition so soon after the implosion of the Titan submersible bound for the wreckage site of the Titanic on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.
On Thursday, the Virgin Galactic aircraft, the VMS Eve, took off from an air field in New Mexico at 10:45 a.m. Eastern time.
The hour-and-a-half flight, which was live streamed by the company, carried two Italian air force officers an engineer with Italy’s National Research Council, and two Virgin Galactic pilots.
The researchers conducted a series of microgravity experiments during their few minutes of weightless.
Branson’s venture is competing in the “suborbital” space tourism sector with American billionaire Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin, which has already sent 32 people into space. But since an accident in September during an unmanned flight, Blue Origin’s rocket has been grounded. The company promised in March to resume spaceflights soon.
Thursday’s launch comes shortly after Branson’s Virgin Orbit announced it was ceasing operations following a mission failure in the United Kingdom.
In January, the California-based company sought to complete the first satellite launch from UK soil with hopes the mission would be a considerable stepping stone for space exploration from the UK.
But the LauncherOne rocket failed to reach orbit and saw its payload of US and UK intelligence satellites dive into the ocean.
Virgin Galactic has sold about 800 tickets for its commercial flights – 600 were sold from 2005 to 2014 for $200,000 to $250,000 each, and 200 have been sold since then for $450,000 each.
Sources: BBC, New York Post, Virgin Galactic.