Virgin Galactic announced the upcoming launch of the VSS Unity spaceplane with company founder Richard Branson aboard. The flight is scheduled for July 11, putting it ahead of another billionaire, Jeff Bezos, who is flying into space on the 20th.
“After more than 16 years of research, development and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the forefront of a new commercial space industry that must open space to humanity and change the world forever.”
For Virgin Galactic, this will be the fourth test space flight and the first mission with four tourists on board. Earlier tests were conducted with only two pilots.
Flying with Branson will be Chief Instructor Astronaut Beth Moses, Lead Operations Engineer Colin Bennett and Vice President of Government Relations Sirisha Bandla. Dave McKay and Michael Masucci will pilot VSS Unity. The flight will be broadcast live.
Unlike Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard, Branson’s VSS Unity is not tethered to a launch pad – it is launched from the air. For this purpose it is lifted up on a special White Knight Two carrier plane, from which it later disconnects and is accelerated by a rocket engine to three times the speed of sound.
VSS Unity reaches an altitude of more than 80 kilometers, the height from which the United States officially considers space (according to the international classification, space begins at 100 kilometers). At this altitude in microgravity, the ship lingers for several minutes, after which it returns to Earth and lands on the runway, like a normal plane.