Virgin Galactic Has Successful Sub-orbital Flight With Branson and Others

Virgin Galactic’s Unity 22 mission has successfully flown billionaire Richard Branson on his first flight into space.

Congratulations to Virgin Galactic and Branson. This is the culmination of a long journey that started with Xprize and Peter Diamandis and Burt Rutan and Spaceship One.

On October 4, 2004, XPRIZE captured the world’s attention by awarding the $10 million Ansari XPRIZE—the largest prize in history—to Mojave Aerospace Ventures for their SpaceShipOne. Led by famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites, with financial backing from Paul Allen, the team’s winning technology was licensed by Richard Branson to create Virgin Galactic.

We will see what Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin can achieve with sub-orbital tourism.

SpaceX will have orbital space tourism via Inspriration 4 and SpaceX is moving on with fully reusable orbital rockets.

Still, Virgin Galactic had a great success and hopefully they will follow with more developments.

The 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.

Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Today is a landmark achievement for the Company and a historic moment for the new commercial space industry. With each successful mission we are paving the way for the next generation of astronauts. I want to thank our talented team, including our pilots and crew, whose dedication and commitment made today possible. They are helping open the door for greater access to space – so it can be for the many and not just for the few.”

VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. The vehicle reached space, at an altitude of 53.5 miles, before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.

SOURCES – Virgin Galactic, CNET, Xprize
Written by Brian Wang,

33 thoughts on “Virgin Galactic Has Successful Sub-orbital Flight With Branson and Others”

  1. There is a big difference if you get high enuf to require substantial shielding. Once there, you will prob want to go very high to get closer to the shielding material, Moon or asteroid, for settlement. There seems to be a limit of about 500 KM for launched/nonshielded settlement, but very much worse if the orbit is inclined, as tourists would want. Very much info in the now found article above. pg 32 "This means that the total energy to launch an unshielded settlement from Earth to LEO is (very roughly) the same as the energy to launch the materials for a shielded settlement from the Moon to L5."

  2. I don't think any refueling would be necessary to build a space station out of Starships. They probably would only need to lift 30-35% of the rated maximum as most of the space would be open area for people. Half the weight would probably be water, and oxygen. Most of the rest, could be made light and strong with composites or titanium alloy. So getting to my suggested 600 miles, should not be a big deal. This is way less than Geostationary, which is 22,236 miles up. I was merely looking at the calculation for how long it could stay up. You could load up and build a bigger station with inflatable things in the Starships, that you take out and inflate, but I rather like the stainless steel protection and rigidity of the Starships for constructing a Space Station.
    Maybe a modification can be made so that a Starship can release its second stage engines which can be picked up by another Starship…ditching them one by one when they are no longer needed. Those 6 engines are a good chunk of the cost of the rocket, I think. 
    Or they could just be removed at the 600 mile destination, more conventionally using space walks, and returned on some trip to and from it for resupply or movement of people. You want those engines off anyway, because it is just more mass to get spinning. You would use small reaction thrusters, most likely, for that.

  3. of course consolidation would help… we don't need to control customer prices, just advance tech, the industry size, and shear numbers of people and stuff to get more things happening…. it's those 'boys' personalities that may not 'mesh'….

  4. Yes it is baby steps, but don't belittle it, no doubt it took a lot of effort to get that far. Hopefully it will serve as an inspiration for others to get to greater things.

  5. Now, as to keeping the Earth pretty, this 2007 study is far outdated, but does include Lunar Solar Power as an option, altho not the first thing to do as starter. Appendix A-2 and A-4 are not quite as clear as I would like. The relay sats needed for LSP are an advantage, allowing Earth to Earth power beaming too. And, at scale needed for global solution, the distance to Moon is not a factor. The radars have to be big anyway for the load.

  6. The "Overview Effect" is the term to describe the life changing experience of seeing the Earth from Space. "I see the Earth. It is so beautiful"-first human response. "I looked up and saw the Earth. I looked back down. I felt unworthy to see such a thing." "I had been waiting to go for years, and had heard so many stories that I was braced to be underwhelmed. I was speechless for several minutes". On and on. The fragility, esp of the atmos. Now, without O'Neill, this is just all the more disheartening. With Space Solar and O'Neill future, we need to spend that C fee on something useful!

  7. Well, I cannot say from personal experience, unfortunately. However, for most of my life I have dreamt of being in a glass sphere in Space, looking at the stars. With a telescope. Earthrise may end up being the most influential part of the Apollo program, long term. Even until recently, I had no idea that seeing the Earth would be that much of the going to Space experience. "Look at all the stars!" my grandfather would always say. But, as I have seen certainly dozens of first hand accounts of the experience of seeing the Earth from orbit, I am sold. And, to top it off, they recently turned the ISS lights out for a test, and, Look at all the stars!

    Now, $250,000 is not small change. But I'll chip in to send any influential person right now. But they can afford it. Bezos has obviously better ride. ??$$. I've been on an airplane. He sends you on a real rocket. All robotic, so no actual expense except fuel, no people except tourists, much cheaper than VG?? You do apparently get the glimpse of Earth that makes the "Overview Effect".

  8. Does anyone here have $260,000 laying around? I'm just going to use it to fly on Unity 22 alongside Elon, so I can give him an elevator pitch for my new startup while we are floating around. Once he invests, I'll give you your money back plus an extra 45 dollars. Fool proof, I tell you!

  9. big issue is whether you can leave the ship (presumably through a lock to an orbiting station, rather than a space-walk).
    So, post-VG:
    Next tourist step: 6-orbit trip, stay in craft;
    then: orbit trip with passenger pod detaching for many orbits
    then: orbit trip with passenger through a lock into permanent orbiting station
    then: orbit trip with passenger space walk to permanent orbiting station
    then: orbit trip with passenger taking limited control of own orbiting craft…

  10. agreed. probably 10x more?? and 3x the wait for orbital trips, late 2020s. Once-in-a-lifetime. Wonder if you can coordinate with eclipses, special events (married just below the Karman Line), etc…
    (though… half-price and dozens more competitors before mid-decade, possibly))

  11. I may have my units confused. I think I found a page you could stick numbers in for surface area, mass, and orbit size, and get decay time.
    Okay. Found one. Probably not the same, but seems fine:
    Probably where they got the 500 km, as that is as high as the calculator goes.
    Used the calculator and assumed 20 Starships and 100,000kg to orbit each. If flat, you get roughly 40 years. On edge 101 years. I am assuming 20 Starships spinning from a center where the diameter is 8 Starships in diameter. And I just considered them as cylinders. On edge, that is what you have anyway, and that is the most likely orientation because of the longer duration.
    Not their design, but the numbers are probably similar, maybe less mass, but that just cuts things shorter.
    I did not include the mass of the ships because we are not going with very low Earth orbit, and Starship probably won't really be able to get 100,000 kg to 500 km, and the mass of Starship is 1/10 of the total mass anyway. Some big fan probably knows the mass of Starship plus everything it can lift to 500 km and put in a circular orbit. But we are just looking for a ballpark number, as this isn't the proposal, just closer to the way I would do it.

  12. Seems like large things could have shielding that would absorb/capture impacts, rather than spray more debris. Large fluffy things also have light pressure more than atmos to worry about, if high enuf. If we stop thinking of the Earth as the *main* place, we an get a little further from it and be comfy. Only tourists and comm should have to actually be all that close. Certainly more economically useful *space* cislunar than on Earth or LEO.

  13. I always wondered why is suborbital stuff not officially paired with orbital tourism. As in, as part of a training and acclimatization program, you start with vomit comet flights, then take a suborbital hop, then go to orbit?

  14. Believe it or not but aerodynamics (or rather the surface area in the direction of motion) and mass do matter for the calculation of how long something will stay up, so the height is not enough to give you a precise duration before incineration. 
    If you make something very large and light, like a big bag, you have to go higher to stay up 100+ years.
    Also, some people are satisfied with 80 years while others may think 500 years is a good number. I like the idea of, at the very least, 300 years for any large space station with rotation for gravity. We don't abandon cities after 80 years. And I don't like assuming there will be a way to boost its orbit later. I think turf will be limited, and you won't just be able to go higher later as it will interfere with other space stations, or the transition could endanger them.
    Better to think ahead. It is like all the subway tunnels. So many cities would have saved large amounts of money, if they had dug the tunnels before they needed them.

    Circular orbits are generally safer, because most of the objects are in circular or roughly circular orbits. When you do something different than the other objects you have an increased risk of high speed collisions. If everything is circular and you are too, if something hits, the speed of impact should be much smaller. You should also have more time to evacuate or get out of the way as well. Though, if you go with a very high orbit there should be very little to run into…at least for now.

  15. Thing is, if you have spent the energy/cost to get into orbit, you will want to stay a while. It is *free* to stay, if fully in orbit. Now, if you come back long distance/intercontinental from an ocean cruise on a sub orbital rocket, that would be nice.

  16. This is about seeing the Earth from Space. Cheapest way. Very useful, IMHO. Not that there is nothing else to do.

  17. And, BIS sez will have large station keeping structures to attach stuff to, so the number of things will be far fewer, not each trying to move itself. They recommend.

  18. Globus ELEO he sez is about 500 KM, but don't know if that is the upper limit or a safe number, as he is concerned about radiation, not the view. BIS sez High Earth Orbit, beyond GEO, may be as good as L5 for large mfg, but prob too far up for tourists. As a tourist, I would want an highly inclined elliptical orbit, but that would require shielding, but would allow better access when low, views of all kinds!

  19. I'm glad there were no mishaps, but you'd think they could have come up with a more useful space stunt. Not what I'd have spent the money on, but, hey, not my money either, so have at it.

  20. I think 600 miles is ideal. Put something in orbit there and it will stay there for hundreds of years without the orbit decaying and the object falling to Earth. But please not thousands of little cube sats. It should only be large things like Space Stations or large science stuff and designed to last.

  21. Glorified "vomit comet" for many times the price. I just don't see it as space unless it is orbit or beyond. Anything else is just attitude. 53.5 miles? What is that? Nothing can orbit there…too much air.
    I guess if you really went to space this way you stand a chance of getting hit by junk actually orbiting. That could get messy. Like Pogoing onto the Autobahn.

  22. Is it me or I just don't care about another mega billionaire getting the glory and fame. Sure the tech is cool, but it is a sub-orbital flight…. Ho hum. Wake me up when we go to Mars. BTW. Who paying for Branson's glory, stock holders? Where are the board members and the CFO to value this as a for profit system?

  23. maybe some industry consolidation is needed.
    would it be some kind of anti-trust situation for a Musk-Branson-Bezos (Space toursim) conglomerate?

  24. need a more compelling near-orbital experience. The difference between an orbital flight and sub-orbital fly-by has to be blended. NASA thoughts: "…the path of an object launched from Earth that reaches 100 km above sea level, and then falls back to Earth, is considered a sub-orbital spaceflight. Some sub-orbital flights have been undertaken to test spacecraft and launchvehicles later intended for orbital spaceflight. Other vehicles are specifically designed only for sub-orbital flight; examples include manned vehicles such as the X-15 and SpaceShipOne, and unmanned ones such as ICBMs and sounding rockets. Flights which attain sufficient velocity to go into low Earth orbit, and then de-orbit before completing their first full orbit, are not considered sub-orbital. Examples of this include Yuri Gagarin's Vostok 1, and flights of the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System…."

  25. VG 50 miles, BO 60 miles, ISS 250 miles, SpaceX Inspiration even higher. ISS astronauts say they are "low", cannot see far enuf around. Let the competition begin!

  26. so how many in their fleet and how much time to re-fly???
    scalable, reliable?? how easy to create new and additonal infrastructure?
    One flight doesn't make an industry… we'll see…

  27. Seemed a bit underwhelming, but 'baby steps' at, what? $75k for 75 minutes and a few weeks' training. It was a 500 person waitlist before trip – now 3500….

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