AMU Editor's Pick Original Space

Virgin Galactic on Track to Send Customers into Space in 2019

By In Space News Staff

In December 2018, Virgin Galactic launched the first U.S. flight to reach outer space since 2011. Although more test flights remain to be conducted, the successful flight puts the company on track to send paying customers into suborbital space later this year, reports Forbes.

The airplane-like SpaceShipTwo took off from California’s Mojave air and space port, about 90 miles north of Los Angeles, on December 13, 2018. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic’s parent company the Virgin Group, was among hundreds of spectators to watch the launch from the California desert.

The test flight had two pilots on board, Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow, along with four NASA research payloads and a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in passenger. It returned safely to Earth just over an hour after takeoff, after reaching a height of 51.4 miles and travelling at 2.9 times the speed of sound, said Virgin Galactic.

SpaceShipTwo is Virgin’s second rocket plane of the same name. The original SpaceShipTwo crashed and was destroyed during a test flight in 2014, killing one of its pilots and seriously injuring the other. It was a major setback for the company.

Virgin Galactic’s main competitor for suborbital spaceflights is Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin. The company has launched several successful unmanned flights and plans to launch test flights carrying crews later in 2019.

More Space Flights Planned by Virgin Galactic and Other Companies

Around 700 people have prepaid or put down deposits to fly aboard Virgin Galactic’s flights to space, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop singer Justin Bieber. A 90-minute flight costs $250,000. Blue Origin has yet to start ticket sales, but is likely to sell them in a similar price range.

Other companies planning to send passengers into space include Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the Boeing Company, and late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems. In November 2018, the Washington Post reported that NASA is also considering flying tourists to the International Space Station.

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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