On May 22, Virgin Galactic took for the first time in more than two years and for the third time in total, two people to the border with outer space.
It is the first of four planned manned assignments this year where the goal is to prepare for commercial space tourism already in 2023.
Reached 89.2 kilometers altitude
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico at 10.34 US Eastern time on Saturday 22 May.
The spacecraft VSS Unity was launched by a large cargo plane and released at 11.26. It activated the engines and set the course up to a peak altitude of 89.2 kilometers (US Air Force and NASA define space from an altitude of 80 kilometers, while the internationally recognized limit is 100 kilometers).
VSS Unity returned to Earth and landed on Spaceport America just 17 minutes later. Along the way, SpaceShipTwo conducted experiments for NASA's Flight Opportunities program.
First flight since February 2019
Virgin Galactic has not had flights in space since February 2019. That flight was a milestone in that it was the company's first manned voyage, but a damaged horizontal stabilizer caused delays and upgrades. The company again tried to enter space in December last year, but the mission was interrupted midway due to electromagnetic interference.
This was the first spaceflight from New Mexico which is now the third US state to send humans into space.
400 tourist trips a year
Virgin Galactic's goal is 400 commercial space tourism trips a year, but to achieve that goal, the company must convince customers that it can fly consistently and safely. The company itself assumes that they are ready for commercial operation as early as next year.
2021 is in many ways an either-or year for Virgin Galactic. The company was founded in 2004 by Richard Branson and the hope has always been to make space tourism a reality. But the company has been exposed to delays and "high-profile" errors (the first SpaceShipTwo crashed in October 2014. A pilot died).
Virgin Galactic is planning three manned voyages this year - one with two pilots and four employees, one with Branson himself as a passenger, and a commercial voyage for the Italian Air Force. The latest mission will be the first in which Virgin Galactic takes customers into space. The trip will generate NOK 17 million in revenue.
A little space history: