Jun 29, 2023 - Science

Virgin Galactic sends its first commercial flight to the edge of space

A Virgin Galactic space plane glides above New Mexico

A view from a Virgin Galactic flight in April 2023. Photo: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic successfully launched its first commercial suborbital mission on Thursday, sending a crew of six to the edge of space.

Why it matters: This start of commercial service has been a long time coming for the company, which Richard Branson founded in 2004.

  • Virgin Galactic can now focus on flying its backlog of about 800 passengers who have purchased tickets already.

What's happening: Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity was lofted into the air attached to its carrier aircraft from New Mexico's Spaceport America at about 10:30am ET.

  • At about 11:30am ET, Unity was dropped by the carrier craft and its engines powered on shortly after, rocketing the spaceplane up to about 52 miles above the Earth.
  • Three passengers from the Italian Air Force and National Research Council of Italy, an astronaut instructor from Virgin Galactic and two pilots then experienced a few minutes of weightlessness before gliding back down to the ground.
  • The spaceplane carried 13 microgravity science experiments with it to suborbital space.

Between the lines: It's not cheap to get a seat aboard one of these flights. Virgin Galactic is now selling tickets for at least $450,000 a pop.

The big picture: Virgin Galactic isn't the only company working to court would-be space tourists.

  • Blue Origin is also offering suborbital flights using its New Shepard space system, though the Jeff Bezos-founded company hasn't flown since a mishap involving an uncrewed flight last year.
  • SpaceX, on the other hand, has already sent paying passengers to orbit and the International Space Station aboard its Crew Dragon capsules.

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