Sir Richard Branson becomes first billionaire in space
Sir Richard Branson has reached space, according to his company, Virgin Galactic.
After releasing from the mothership – at approximately 4.25pm UK time – the VSS Unity spaceplane quickly reached its maximum altitude at 55 miles (88km) which is below the Karman Line, internationally recognised as the edge of space.
The British billionaire took the ride of his life above New Mexico in the US in a rocket plane the company has been developing for 17 years.
The mothership took off from the Spaceport America runway in New Mexico approximately an hour later than initially planned due to bad weather on Sunday.
Sir Richard has now landed safely back on Earth.
He was accompanied on the mission by Unity’s two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, and three Galactic employees – Beth Moses, Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla.
Sir Richard Branson announced his plan to reach space nine days before Amazon boss Jeff Bezos is set to launch aboard his own mission. However, there are questions about whether Virgin Galactic‘s maximum altitude of 80km actually qualifies as space.
Despite this, the six crew on board experienced a few minutes of microgravity before the rocket motor turned off and the spaceplane began to glide back to Earth.
Last December Virgin Galactic aborted a landmark test flight of its rocket-powered space plane, despite everything getting the all-clear a minute before launch.
The Unity 22 mission will be the company’s first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists in the cabin but will be the 22nd flight test for rocket plane VSS Unity.
Take-off! The #Unity22 crew including @RichardBranson leave Spaceport America, New Mexico for #VirginGalactic’s first fully-crewed spaceflight. pic.twitter.com/RxGYp90nu8
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 11, 2021