Why is this a big deal: Virgin Galactic hasn’t gone into space since February 2019, when three people flew in a single mission. This was a landmark launch (the company’s second time in outer space and the first time it had carried passengers), but it also damaged a horizontal stabilizer that led to safety reviews and renovations. Saturday’s flight was the first time those upgrades had been tested in a full space flight. The company attempted to return to space last December, but that mission was aborted in mid-flight due to electromagnetic interference.
This was also the first space flight to be launched from New Mexico (now the third US state to launch humans into space) – Virgin Galactic intends to conduct all of its commercial flights from Spaceport America, with the goal of launching 400 flights per year.
Big year ahead: In many ways, 2021 is a success or failure year for Virgin Galactic. It was founded in 2004 by Richard Branson with the hope of making it Space tourism Reality. But the company has been consistently plagued by development delays and quite a few notable failures (the October 2014 collapse of the first SpaceShipTwo that resulted in the death of a pilot who is still fresh in people’s minds). To reach the company 400 trips a year, It will need to demonstrate its ability to fly quickly, steadily and safely.
To that end, Virgin Galactic plans to undertake manned missions into space three more times this year – once with two pilots and four company employees as passengers, once with Branson as a passenger, and once as a commercial flight for the Italian Air Force. This latest mission will be the first time Virgin Galactic has taken clients into space, and it should be generating $ 2 million in revenue. The company may also attempt flights for the newly revealed SpaceShipThree this summer. All of this activity should prepare the company for commercial operations early next year.
Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic’s main competitor for the space tourism market, Blue Origin, plans to send a manned mission into space for the first time on July 20, when a crew of six rides the New Shepard in sub-orbital space.