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Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Space Plane Flight: How to Watch.

On Sunday, Richard Branson will take his first flight to space.

Mr. Branson, the brash, 70-year-old British billionaire who runs a slew of Virgin enterprises, has been waiting a long time. He launched Virgin Galactic in 2004 with the goal of providing thrill seekers with rides to the edge of space and back on rocket-powered planes.

He estimated that commercial service would begin in two to three years at the time. Instead, it's been nearly 17 years. Virgin Galactic says it still needs to do three more test flights, including one on Sunday, before it is ready to accept paying customers.

Mr. Branson will be a part of the crew on this flight. His job is to assess the cabin experience for potential customers.

When will the flight take place, and how will I be able to view it?

The flight is set to depart from Spaceport America in New Mexico, some 180 miles south of Albuquerque, on Sunday morning.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Eastern time, Virgin will broadcast live coverage of the journey, hosted by Stephen Colbert. After the crew arrives, musician Khalid is slated to perform a new song, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk said that he might show there.

What is the purpose of Virgin Galactic's spacecraft, and what will it accomplish?

The rocket plane, called SpaceShipTwo, is roughly the size of a commercial jet. There will be four persons in the cabin, in addition to the two pilots. V.S.S. Unity is the name of this SpaceShipTwo.

Unity is transported to an altitude of roughly 50,000 feet by a larger plane to get off the ground. Unity will be released there, and the rocket plane's engine will fire. On the route to an altitude of more than 50 miles, the acceleration will cause passengers to experience a force up to 3.5 times their normal weight.

Those on board will be allowed to get out of their seats and experience four minutes of apparent weightlessness at the top of the arc. Of course, they will not have escaped gravity in the first place. The downward gravitational attraction of Earth from fifty miles up is essentially the same as it is on the ground; rather, the passengers will be falling at the same rate as the plane around them.

                                                                    

                                                                     The V.S.S. Unity during a test flight on May 22. Virgin Galactic, via Reuters.

The space plane's two tail booms rotate up to a "feathered" position, which increases drag and stability and allows the plane to re-enter Earth's atmosphere more gently. This arrangement resembles a badminton shuttlecock, which always lands with the pointed side facing down, rather than a plane.

Nonetheless, the passengers will be subjected to stronger forces on the way down than on the way up, reaching six times the force of gravity.

The tail booms rotate down once the plane is back in the atmosphere, and the plane glides to a landing. It's possible that the entire flight will take less than two hours

Who are the members of the flight crew?

David Mackay and Michael Masucci are the pilots.

Three Virgin Galactic staff, in addition to Mr. Branson, will assess how the experience will be for future paying clients. Beth Moses, the main astronaut teacher, Colin Bennett, the lead operations engineer, and Sirisha Bandla, the vice president of government affairs and research operations, are their names. Ms. Bandla will also participate in a University of Florida-sponsored science experiment.

Is Virgin Galactic's spacecraft safe to travel in?

The Virgin Galactic design already has a shaky track record in terms of safety. The V.S.S. Enterprise, the company's first space plane, crashed during a test flight in 2014 after the co-pilot moved a lever too early, enabling the tail booms to spin when they should have remained stiff. The Enterprise disintegrated, and Michael Alsbury, the co-pilot, was killed. Peter Siebold, the pilot, was able to escape the plane by parachute.

The controls have been adjusted to prevent the tail booms from being unlocked too early.

When a new metal thermal protection film was put incorrectly in 2019, it covered up gaps that allow air held inside a horizontal stabiliser — the short horizontal wing on the tail of a plane — to flow out when the craft rises into the rarefied levels of the atmosphere. Instead, the stored air ruptured a seal along one of the stabilisers due to its pressure.

Nicholas Schmidle, a staff writer at The New Yorker, revealed the blunder in his book "Test Gods" earlier this year. “I don't know how we didn't lose the vehicle and kill three people,” says Todd Ericson, then-Vice President of Safety and Testing at Virgin Galactic.

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