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