Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

End of an era for Virgin Galactic commercial flights • Source New Mexico

SPACEPORT AMERICA — Virgin Galactic launched its seventh, and last flight with the Unity ship, out of the New Mexico Spaceport Saturday.

The four passengers on the commercial flight and two experiments from Purdue University and University of California Berkeley.

The four customers were Turkish researcher Tuva Atasever; SpaceX propulsion engineer Andy Sadhwani; former real estate developer Irving Izchak Pergament, and London hotel and resort investment strategist Giorgio Manenti.

Turkish researcher Tuva Atasever displayed the Turkish and Azerbaijani flags after completing the near-spaceflight on Saturday, June 8, 2024. Atasever was working to monitor blood distribution and spinal fluid movement during the flight, examine how much radiation he was exposed to and insulin uptake in microgravity. ‘Kudos, hats off to all the rocket engineers, who developed this beautiful, beautiful rocket engine,’ he said afterwards. (Danielle Prokop / Source NM)

At an apogee of 54.4 miles, the flight made it into the fuzzy line between the Earth’s atmosphere and space, defined by NASA as 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, but below the imaginary boundary of the Kámán Line, measured about 62 miles above the planet.

This flight, sent off with the cheers of several hundred observers, is the last commercial flight for at least two years.

In November Virgin Galactic laid off 185 employees, including 73 in New Mexico, as a strategy to pivot to building space planes with more seats, outlining a plan to fly several times a month when it returns in 2026.

The company has said the facility to build the crafts in Mesa, Arizona, is expected to be operational in 2024.

Virgin Galactic’s founder, billionaire Richard Branson, appeared at the launch site Saturday outside of Truth or Consequences. Branson joined Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier in heralding the future of the company.

“The new Delta-class of spaceship will be wonderful,” Branson said. “It will be like building aeroplanes so we can build one after the other, after the other, and in time start bringing the prices down and enabling more people to go to space.”

Scott McLaughlin, the executive director at the New Mexico Spaceport Authority at the last commerical launch for Virgin Galactic before the hiatus. (Danielle Prokop / Source NM)

Virgin Galactic founder and British billionaire, Richard Branson, watched the launch Saturday. (Danielle Prokop / Source NM)

The spaceplane separates from the carrier plane, and begins to burn in a rocket stage. (Danielle Prokop / Source NM)

The VSS Unity ship realights after reaching an apogee at 54.4 miles above the earth, in near-space. (Danielle Prokop / Source NM)

Branson, left, joins the passengers for the seventh commercial spaceflight at Spaceport America, along with Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier, far right. (Source NM / Danielle Prokop)

The ‘Gateway to Space’ building which Virgin Galactic leases from the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, as seen on Saturday, Jun 8, 2024. (Danielle Prokop / Source NM)

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