The race for Space is on and Virgin Galactic has just successfully completed its first passenger flight.
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is finally ready to launch with customers and Astronaut 001 was the man himself. Unlike competing options for commercial space travel, Virgin Galactic uses a mothership to take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, reaches nearly 50,000 feet, drops the rocket, and fires from altitude reaching 50 miles above the earth and reaching zero gravity.
Virgin Galactic has had a choppy experience getting to launch. Despite collecting hundreds of deposits for space tourism flights ($200,000-250,000/person), delays have caused both and launch and financial setbacks. Unfortunately, the company also discovered a design flaw and pilot error that resulted in one pilot losing his life and a hull loss during a test flight.
For comparison, SpaceX has secured a private deal with a Japanese billionaire to host a cosmic party with him and 8 of his closest friends circling the moon in the coming years for an undisclosed amount. Blue Origin auctioned a seat on Bezos upcoming 11-minute flight for $28M.
Branson Flies to Zero Gravity
Just before 11:30 Eastern (GMT-5), the vehicle was released from VMS Eve and launched to apogee above 280,000 feet. The vehicle then flipped, as intended, to allow Branson and three others to join him in zero gravity with windows facing the earth. They spent just a few minutes rolling around the cabin weightlessly, though the live feed failed to properly display this at the time.
Founder Richard Branson’s trip trumped Jeff Bezos’ trip the stars slated for later this month on his own Blue Origin rocket.
After the short flight, the glider re-entered the atmosphere safely and touched down at 11:40AM
Of the three major commercial US space companies that have stated they will carry passengers, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, just Virgin Galactic Holdings is available for trading on the New York Stock Exchange. In March of 2020, the stock quote had been as low as $12/share, though last week in the lead up to this launch, the stock has reached north of $52 climbing more than 15% on Thursday’s trading day alone.
The flight was successful but the question remaining will be whether the flight will inspire more bookings and give Virgin Galactic stock a rocket boost or if it will come back down to earth after a short apogee. It will also be interesting to see whether Blue Origin considers floating the company on the open market. SpaceX is unlikely to do so given Musk’s uneasy experience with TSLA and remaining SEC compliant with his verbose tweets.
Watching the live feed in real time was exciting initially but then a little bit of a letdown when the weightless portion seemed so short. From rocket launch to disembarkation on the runway was less than 15 minutes. It’s encouraging to see the rapid development of modern space programs that create the opportunity for many more people to experience the earth from above than would otherwise be possible. My hope is that this encourages other companies to take a dynamic approach to regular and more affordable experiences off-planet. As flights begin to become more frequent and the model is proven to be safe, this could reduce the barriers between the stars and terra firma. It also closes the gap from the staggering costs of experiencing flight atop rockets.
What do you think? Did you watch the launch? Does this make space tourism more of a possibility or was it overblown due to its short duration? If you had the means, would you purchase a ticket?