Tuesday, October 26

To take off? US Lets Virgin Galactic Take Paying Passengers Into Space | Richard Branson


Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has taken another small leap in the multi-million dollar space race after US authorities gave it permission to take paying customers into space.

Its license was upgraded Friday by the US Federal Aviation Administration to allow for a full commercial launch, after a successful test flight last month.

Branson may still be aboard the first passenger flight, which according to some reports could be July 4 from the New Mexico spaceport, though the firm said it was speculation.

Three more test flights are planned after the May 22 test, where the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft reached space at an altitude of 55.5 miles and a speed of Mach 3, or more than 2,300 miles per hour.

A Virgin Galactic spokeswoman said: “As previously announced, we expect to complete final test flights this summer through early fall. [autumn]. At this time, we have not determined the date of our next flight. “

Michael Colglazier, Virgin Galactic CEO, said: “We are incredibly pleased with the results of our most recent test flight, which achieved our stated flight test objectives. The flight went smoothly and the results demonstrate the safety and elegance of our flight system.

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What is Virgin Galactic?

Sir Richard Branson revealed his ambition to transport tourists to outer space and back in 2004, initially proposing a maiden voyage for 2009.

More than a decade later, and after several false sunrises when the first trip seemed tantalizingly close, aspiring private astronauts are still waiting to board a Virgin Galactic flight.

More than 600 have already deposited deposits for the pleasure of suborbital spaceflight, with tickets selling for $ 250,000 (£ 202,000).

Buyers will have to travel from Spaceport America in New Mexico, the home of the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft.

The rocket-powered aircraft will be launched from the air by another aircraft, Scaled Composites Model 348 White Knight Two, reaching 68 miles above Earth, where passengers will experience weightlessness before returning via a landing on a conventional runway.

The project suffered a setback in 2014 when a version of SpaceShipTwo disintegrated in midair due to an investigation found to be a combination of pilot error and inadequate safety procedures. Co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed, while pilot Peter Siebold was seriously injured.

Branson went public with Virgin Galactic last year, securing a $ 450 million investment from former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya.

But while Branson said in 2019 that the first flights could follow this year, Virgin Galactic remains rooted at the launch pad.

Photography: Virgin Galactic

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“Today’s approval by the FAA of our full commercial launch license, coupled with the success of our test flight on May 22, gives us confidence as we move towards our first fully crewed test flight this summer.”

The FAA’s blessing came when Branson competes with two of the three richest men in the world, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla boss Elon Musk, in the development of spaceflight. Bezos recently announced that he would be aboard the first passenger flight of the New Shepard spacecraft, built by his company Blue Origin, on July 20.

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The license puts Branson within reach to finally realize the ambition of the Virgin Galactic firm he founded in 2004, which has booked numerous celebrities and super-wealthy passengers aboard eventual space flights, at about $ 200,000 (£ 14,400) a ticket.

The company has been marked by numerous setbacks, at least two fatal accidents in 2007 and 2014, in which three engineers and a test pilot were killed.

Virgin Galactic became a publicly traded company in 2019, while Branson recently sold hundreds of millions of dollars in stock to help shore up its struggling Virgin Atlantic airline as it crippled its fleets and laid off staff due to the US pandemic. Covid.


www.theguardian.com

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