Why this is a big deal: Virgin Galactic has not been into space since February 2019, when it flew three people on a single mission. It was a stopover launch (the second time the company reached space and the first time it carried passengers), but it also led to a damaged horizontal stabilizer that led to a safety overhaul and restructuring. Saturday’s flight was the first time the upgrades have been tested in full space flight. The company tried to return to space last December, but this mission was abandoned in mid-flight due to electromagnetic interference.
This was also the first space flight launched from New Mexico (now the third U.S. state to launch man into space) —Virgin Galactic intends to conduct all of its commercial flights from Spaceport America, with the goal is to launch 400 flights a year.
Big year ahead: In many ways, 2021 is a make-or-break year for Virgin Galactic. It was founded in 2004 by Richard Branson with the hope of making it space tourism a reality. But society has been constantly plagued by development delays and many high-profile failures (the crash of the first SpaceShipTwo in October 2014 that led to the death of a pilot is still new in mind). So the company arrives 400 flights a year, must demonstrate that it can fly quickly, consistently and safely.
To that end, Virgin Galactic plans to fly equipped 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 returns as a commercial flight for the Italian Air Force. This latest mission will be the first time Virgin Galactic brings customers into space, and will bring in $ 2 million in revenue. The company may also try to plan flights for its new SpaceShipThree unveiled this summer. All this activity is presumably supposed to set up the company for commercial operations as early as next year.
Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic’s main competition for the space tourism market, Blue Origin, plans to fly an equipped mission into space for the first time on July 20, when a six-person crew will drive a New Shepard vehicle in the suborbital space.