With company owner and uber-adventurer Sir Richard Branson on board, Virgin Galactic announced on 11 July that VSS Unity successfully reached space, completing the company’s fourth rocket-powered spaceflight and opening the door to space tourism.
This was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including Branson.
The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.
The seminal moment for Virgin Galactic and Branson was witnessed by audiences around the world as it streamed live, including fellow space travel entrepreneurs Elon Musk of Tesla and Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon whose own spacecraft will lift off on a test run later this month.
Both men sent congratulatory notes to Branson.
“I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space. It was magical.
"We are at the vanguard of a new space age,” Branson said in a statement. “As Virgin’s founder, I was honoured to test the incredible customer experience as part of this remarkable crew of mission specialists and now astronauts. I can’t wait to share this experience with aspiring astronauts around the world.”
VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. The vehicle reached space, at an altitude of 53.5 miles, before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.
“Our mission is to make space more accessible to all,” Branson added.