Virgin Galactic is getting back into the space race after revealing its new VSS Unity spaceship, which will soon be ferrying people beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
After the failure of its predecessor, the VSS Unity will undergo rigorous testing this year before any humans are aboard. Some 700 people have already bought tickets and will be among the first passengers to experience space tourism.
The tickets cost $250,000 and will get you a birds-eye view of the earth and its curves from 100 kilometers above sea level. Passengers, who will be brought in groups of six, will also get to experience brief weightlessness and the blackness of space.
Among the ticket holders is Professor Stephen Hawking, who was given his as a gift and had the honor of naming and introducing the new spaceship.
Branson’s VSS Unity is solely focusing on space tourism and how it can be made accessible for everyone. It’s not entirely without competition though; there are companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Blue Origin that are building reusable rockets that can transport both humans and cargo into space.
The new VSS Unity will not launch like a rocket, as it is designed to detach itself from an airplane and deploy its own engine to blast into sub-orbital space at three and a half times the speed of sound. The trip will operate on a straight up and down route, unlike rockets or the ISS, which circle the earth on their journeys.
Reflecting on the disaster of the Unity’s predecessor, during which its co-pilot lost his life and the pilot was severely injured, Branson said he had questioned whether carrying on was right, but he now sees the new VSS Unity as a “great testament to what can be achieved when true teamwork, great skill and deep pride are combined with a common purpose.”
An investigation into the failure of the previous spaceship found that human error was the cause of the accident and Virgin Galactic says it has worked to ensure that more failsafes are in place to prevent this kind of incident occurring again in the future.