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Virgin Galactic launch live: Rocket successfully carries first paying customers

Sir Richard Branson’s rocket company Virgin Galactic has successfully carried its first paying customers towards space.

A plane carrying the space company’s VSS Unity rocket took off from the New Mexico desert for its “Galactic 01” mission after nearly two decades of preparation.

The operation started around 4pm BST, or 11am local time. Virgin Galactic’s mothership - VSS Eve - flew to around 45,000 ft before dropping its space plane, VSS Unity, which has then blasted towards space.

The mission was nearly two decades in the making, finally making commercial space flight a reality for the British billionaire.

Despite multiple setbacks and delays, Virgin Galactic now plans to carry customers who will pay up to $450,000 per ticket to space on a monthly basis.

Read the latest updates below.

05:06 PM BST

Virgin Galactic to begin monthly flights

The safe conclusion to Virgin Galactic’s first commercial mission paves the way for regular commercial space flights, with customers paying up to $450,000 for a ticket to become “astronauts”.

The company is hoping to fly monthly space missions, which will carry various scientists, researchers and space tourists 50 miles to the edge of space. Around 800 customers have already reserved a seat on one of the flights.

Looking further forward, Virgin Galactic is developing a series of new space craft that will undertake weekly flights.

After two decades, the company is now hoping to turn its years of development into regular revenues.

04:56 PM BST

Mission success not enough to lift share price

Despite Virgin Galactic’s mission going seemingly smoothly, it has not been enough to lift the company’s share price. Its stock dipped nearly 10pc as the mission completed.

04:44 PM BST


VSS Unity has returned to earth safely after its first successful commercial mission to space.

04:43 PM BST

VSS Unity begins landing approach

The spaceplane is now around 10,000 feet above earth and will land back at Spaceport America. The landing gear is correctly down and the plane is making its final approach.

04:37 PM BST

Space plane begins gliding back to base

The VSS Unity’s wings have returned to their normal flight position, and the spaceplane will now drift its way back to earth.

04:35 PM BST

VSS Unity begins to fall back to earth

Virgin Galactic’s rocket has started its descent back towards earth after just a few minutes of weightlessness.

The crew have all returned to their seats and strapped themselves back into their seats.

VSS Unity has begun its glide at about twice the speed of sound back towards earth.

04:32 PM BST

Crew undo unclip their seatbelts

The crew of VSS Unity have unclipped their seatbelts for their roughly four minutes of weightlessness as Virgin Galactic reaches its apogee.

The Italian Air Force pilots unfurl an Italian flag to celebrate becoming astronauts.

04:30 PM BST

VSS Unity releases and blasts off

The rocket has descended from the mothership and blasted towards space travelling at Mach 1.4.

04:29 PM BST

1 minute until release

VSS Unity is nearly ready for release

04:23 PM BST

10 minutes until release

Just minutes now until VSS Eve releases Unity from under the plane for the final stage of its launch.

04:22 PM BST

Branson's Galactic returns to operations after two years

Today’s launch comes nearly two years after Sir Richard made it to space for the first time when he was a member of the crew aboard Virgin Galactic’s maiden fully crewed flight.

The mission on 11 July, 2021, allowed Sir Richard to beat billionaire rival, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, in reaching space for the first time.

It was not Sir Richard’s first high altitude adventure. The billion, who founded Virgin Records, undertook multiple daredevil flights on high altitude balloons.

However, Galactic’s first fully crewed mission did not go entirely as planned.

The company’s spaceplane drifted slightly off course during its flight, resulting in an investigation by US regulators. The company also uncovered technical problems that needed costly alterations before the aircraft could return to space.

That led to a nearly two year hold up, before a further test flight in May ahead of today’s mission.

04:04 PM BST

Galactic 01 lifts off from Spaceport America

Just now, the VSS Eve plane - named for Sir Richard’s mother - carrying the VSS Unity space plane under its wing, has taken off from Spaceport America in New Mexico - ahead of a blast off expected in around 40 minutes time.

The aircraft will now carry to the rocket to around 50,000 feet, before the rocket plane drops and blasts towards space. The whole mission is expected to take around 90 minutes from start to finish.

04:01 PM BST

Meet the crew of Galactic 01

Virgin Galactic’s first commercial mission will carry two Virgin pilots and four crew members - who all will become “astronauts” if the mission is a success.

The crew include commander Michael Masucci, a former US Air Force pilot on his fourth space flight, and pilot Nicola Pecile.

The mission crew include three Italian Air Force officers who will be undertaking a series of experiments measuring their biometric during the mission - Col Walter Villadei, Lt Col Angelo Landolfi and Pantaleone Carlucci of the National Research Council of Italy - as well as British astronaut instructor Colin Bennett.

03:38 PM BST

Galactic 01 mission to move on from Virgin Orbit failure

Virgin Galactic is Sir Richard’s space tourism venture, carrying passengers into space. But until earlier this year it was one of two space companies the billionaire had backed.

The other was Virgin Orbit, a satellite launch company that used a Boeing 747 to carry rockets to 37,000 feet, before blasting them into space.

The company tried to launch the first domestic mission from UK soil in January, but the rocket suffered an anomaly and failed to reach orbit.

Weeks later, the company was forced to file for bankruptcy. Sir Richard had ploughed more than $1bn into the space business, which was later sold for parts to rivals for just $36m.

With Virgin’s new Galactic 01 mission, the British entrepreneur has a chance to make at least one of his space companies a success.

03:19 PM BST

VSS Unity prepares for lift off

Good afternoon and welcome to our live blog of Virgin Galactic’s first commercial launch.

Two years after Sir Richard Branson finally made it into space, his company is back with a proper commercial mission, carrying customers up to the edge of space.

Events are due to begin in around an hour, when a live stream of Virgin Galactic’s mission will begin, barring any last minute delays.

The rocket will take off from Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert. The mission uses a large plane, VSS Eve - or White Knight Two, to carry a rocket plane to high altitude.

The plane then drops from between the dual fuselage, blasting its rocket engines and firing towards the edge of space.

It will reach a high point of just over 50 miles above the earth, where passengers will experience a brief period of about five minutes of weightlessness, before gliding back to earth.


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