Virgin Galactic's first manned spaceflight is just weeks away: Branson
Gear up, space tourists! Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is just weeks away from reaching space.
In a recent interview with CNBC, Branson revealed the company is planning to take its VSS Unity spaceplane into orbit as part of a test flight.
The move, a first for Virgin Galactic, will be a major step towards enabling quick manned space trips in coming months.
Virgin Galactic weeks away from first-ever human spaceflight?
Their main goal: Quick space trips
Virgin Galactic hopes to use VSS Unity to enter the nascent market of space tourism and send paying passengers on quick orbital trips.
The flight, including the ascent and descent, would take nearly two and a half hours, while the microgravity of space will be experienced for a few minutes.
VSS Unity will hit speeds faster than sound during flight and then glide back.
Extensive tests being conducted to fly passengers
However, in order to make that happen, Virgin Galactic has been conducting a series of extensive tests with the spaceplane.
It has already conducted high-altitude glides and powered flights, leaving powered spaceflight to be conducted.
If this happens in a matter of weeks (as suggested by Branson), Virgin will be pretty close to taking humans into space.
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What will happen in the upcoming spaceflight?
In the upcoming test, the pilots of VSS Unity will try to burn its rocket boosters for a longer period.
The move will not just increase the speed of the spaceplane (estimated to be faster than Mach 3 or 4,000km/hr), but also take it higher than ever and ultimately into orbit, some 110km above Earth.
After this, they'll glide back to the ground.
After that, Branson will also fly into space
Within a few months of completing the test spaceflight, Branson will also head on a space voyage.
Speaking to CNBC, he stated he's been working and training to spend time in microgravity.
"We will be in space with people not too long after that so we have got a very, very exciting couple of months ahead," he added in the statement.
What would be the cost of Virgin Galactic's space trip?
Though it remains unclear when exactly Virgin Galactic's first passenger trip will happen, but it is imperative to note the tickets for the same have already been sold, for $250,000.
Some 800 people have purchased the tickets since they went on sale 15 years ago.
Branson has said the price won't come down any time soon, but could down to $40,000 in 10 years.
However, it hasn't been an easy ride for Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic started its mission all the way back in 2004.
However, its years of progress was jeopardized when the first spaceplane, VSS Enterprise, disintegrated during a test flight in 2014 and crashed in the Mojave desert, killing one pilot and injuring the other.
The incident disrupted Virgin's efforts, but they continued and came back stronger with the introduction of VSS Unity in 2016.
More players heading into the space tourism
That said, it is important to note Virgin Galactic isn't the only player heading into space tourism.
Elon Musk's SpaceX, which has mastered the art of reusability with its Falcon 9, has already booked a passenger for a round trip to Moon, while Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin has also been conducting tests to fly paying passengers to orbit and back.