Richard Branson goes to space

By Jackie Wattles, Fernando Alfonso III and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 2039 GMT (0439 HKT) July 11, 2021
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1:11 p.m. ET, July 11, 2021

Branson: "Welcome to the dawn of a new space age"

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic

Traveling to space must be "more accessible to all," Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said during a news conference following his successful flight aboard Galactic's VSS Unity earlier today.

"We're here to make space more accessible to all. We want to turn the next generation of dreamers into the astronauts of today and tomorrow. We've all us on this stage have had the most extraordinary experience, and we'd love it if a number of you can have it, too," he said. "If you ever had a dream, now is the time to make it come true. I'd like to end by saying welcome to the dawn of a new space age."

Watch here:

12:32 p.m. ET, July 11, 2021

Richard Branson embraces his family after supersonic space plane lands safely

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson was seen smiling as he embraced his family following the safe landing of Galactic's VSS Unity space plane.

Watch the moment here:

11:57 a.m. ET, July 11, 2021

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity returns to ground

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity space plane has safely landed at Spaceport America, live video from the scene showed.

Watch the landing here:

11:41 a.m. ET, July 11, 2021

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity detaches from mothership

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane has detached from its mothership and is independently headed toward space, a livestream from the event showed. 

VSS Unity is a suborbital space plane, meaning it won't drum up enough speed to escape the pull of Earth's gravity. Instead, it'll rocket at more than three times the speed of sound — about 2,300 miles per hour — to more than 50 miles above ground.

At the top of the flight path, Branson and his fellow passengers are expected to briefly experience weightlessness.

See Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity detach from mothership:

11:32 a.m. ET, July 11, 2021

Here's the view from Richard Branson's ship above Earth

Here's a look at what the crew aboard Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity saw while traveling above Earth:

11:33 a.m. ET, July 11, 2021

Branson's trip to space should only take about an hour

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic

From the time the ship leaves the ground to the time the spacecraft lands back down on it, Richard Branson's trip aboard Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity should only take roughly an hour.

Unlike traditional space travel where astronauts circle the Earth and float in space for days, Virgin Galactic's flights are brief, up-and-down trips. But the spacecraft will go more than 50 miles above Earth, which the US government considers to mark the boundary of outer space.

10:51 a.m. ET, July 11, 2021

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity carrying billionaire Richard Branson takes off

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

The Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity has officially taken off.

The flight, which has billionaire Richard Branson and other passengers aboard, conducted more than 20 test flights, three of which have reached the edge of space, CNN has reported.

It is affixed to a mothership, called WhiteKnightTwo, that looks like two sleek jets attached at the tip of their wings. 

The mothership will take about 45 minutes to cruise along and slowly climb with VSS Unity to between 40,000 and 50,000 feet. 

When the pilots give the go-ahead, the space plane will drop from between WhiteKnightTwo's two fuselages and fire up its rocket engine, swooping directly upward and roaring past the speed of sound.

10:36 a.m. ET, July 11, 2021

Federal Aviation Administration issues temporary flight restriction around Truth and Consequences

The Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday issued a TFR or temporary flight restriction around the area of Truth and Consequences, New Mexico, in anticipation of Virgin Galactic’s trip to space.  

The TFR was issued from 9 a.m. through 6 p.m. ET “to provide a safe environment for spacecraft recovery,” according to the FAA. 

Some context: Temporary Flight Restrictions are used by the FAA to restrict aircraft operations within designated areas.  According to the FAA, TFRs with regards to spaceflight are typically used in Florida, New Mexico, and California.  

 

10:31 a.m. ET, July 11, 2021

The crew of SpaceShipTwo is strapped in

The four crew members of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, including the billionaire backer of Virgin Galactic Richard Branson, is strapped in and about to take off.

The spacecraft, attached in between the twin fuselages of mothership WhiteKnightTwo, will take off from a traditional runway at Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

Once the mothership, with its four jet engines, reaches about 50,000 feet altitude, it will drop the spacecraft. VSS Unity will then light its own rocket engine, and shoot up to an altitude over 50 miles above the desert floor.