Virgin Galactic launch: Richard Branson lands after historic spaceflight 'Touchdown!'

Richard Branson sends message during spaceflight

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Virgin Galactic has launched on its very first, fully-crewed suborbital flight. The space tourism company blasted off at about 3.40pm BST from the prestigious Spaceport America in New Mexico, US. More importantly, however, business magnate and Virgin mogul Sir Richard Branson will earn his astronaut wings today as he will be one of the six people onboard the VSS Unity spacecraft.

What you need to know about this flight:

  • Virgin Galactic launched after 3.30pm BST
  • Richard Branson was joined by three flight specialists and two pilots
  • The VSS Unity flew to about 56 miles (80km)
  • This is the company’s first fully-crewed flight
  • Richard Branson has become an astronaut at 70

Sir Richard, 70, has become the second oldest person to fly into space after legendary NASA astronaut John Glenn.

His role in today’s flight was to personally inspect the spacecraft’s “private astronaut experience”, which he hopes to one day bring to the masses.

Today’s mission marked Virgin Galactic’s 22nd overall flight as well as its fourth trip into suborbital space.

However, the company has never flown with a crew of four flight specialists before.

Ahead of the flight, Sir Richard said: “It’s a beautiful day to go to space.”

READ MORE: Virgin Galactic launch LIVE stream: Watch the historic flight HERE

Virgin Galactic launch live updates

Virgin Galactic launch LIVE: Follow live updates from the historic spaceflight (Image: GETTY/SKYNEWS)

Virgin Galactic launch: VSS Unity landing

Virgin Galactic launch: The VSS Unity has landed back in New Mexico (Image: VIRGIN GALACTIC)

10.03pm update: Richard Branson plans next trip

Sir Richard said he expects to begin selling to customers from next year.

He added: “I’ve had my notebook with me and I’ve written down 30 or 40 little things that will make the experience for the next person who goes to space with us that much better.

“The only way sometimes you can find these little things is to get in a spaceship and go to space and experience it for yourself.”

8.52pm update: Branson soars 50 miles above Earth

Mr Branson soared more than 50 miles above the New Mexico desert aboard his Virgin Galactic rocket plane and safely returned in the vehicle’s first fully crewed test flight to space, which was a symbolic milestone for a venture he started 17 years ago.

7.23pm update: Richard Branson speaks of more childhood memories

He wrote on Twitter: “I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars.

“Now I’m an adult in a spaceship looking down to our beautiful Earth.

“To the next generation of dreamers: if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.”

Rachel Russell taking over from Sebastian Kettley. 

5.30pm BST: Richard Branson’s childhood dream comes true

After touching down back on Earth, Sir Richard said he has dreamt of seeing the Earth from space since he was a child.

He said: “As Virgin’s founder, I was honoured to test the incredible customer experience as part of this remarkable crew of mission specialists and now astronauts.

“I can’t wait to share this experience with aspiring astronauts around the world.”

He added: “Our mission is to make space more accessible to all.”

5.10pm BST:

Speaking from the VSS Unity, Sir Richard was heard saying the flight had been an “experience of a lifetime”.

Although the live stream quality was poor, the Virgin mogul was clearly having the time of his life.

According to Michael Colglazier, the Chief executive of Virgin Galactic, today’s mission will make space more accessible to more people.

He said: “He said: “This is a landmark moment for Virgin Galactic.

“It’s a landmark moment for the new commercial space industry and it certainly is a landmark moment for our founder Richard Branson.”

4.46pm BST: World congratulates Virgin Galactic for historic voyage

Virgin Galactic has completed its first fully-crewed flight into space.

Spaceflight pundits, science enthusiasts and Virgin fans around the world congratulated the mission’s crew.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell tweeted: “Wheels stop! Congrats to David, Mike, Richard, Beth @VGChiefTrainer, Colin and Sirisha @SirishaBandla.”

British astronaut Tim Peake said: “Congratulations @virgingalactic on another successful mission! #Unity22 #space”

And Michael Sheetz, a space reporter for CNBC, said: “Touchdown! Virgin Galactic spacecraft VSS Unity returns to land, completing the company’s spaceflight.”

Virgin Galactic spacecraft landing

Virgin Galactic launch: The VSS Unity touched down without any problems (Image: GETTY)

Virgin Galactic: VSS Unity launch

Virgin Galactic launch: The moment VSS Unity detached and fired its rocket engine (Image: GETTY)

4.40pm BST: Richard Branson and company land in New Mexico

The VSS Unity executed a “perfect landing” after grazing the edge of space.

Richard Branson and his crew touched down at the Spaceport America in New Mexico, 90 minutes after launching into the air.

4.30pm BST:

The VSS Unity has entered space with its crew of six, meaning Sir Richard Branson is now an astronaut.

He has become the second-oldest person to fly into space after NASA astronaut John Glenn.

After the brief excursion, the spacecraft is now heading back to Earth.

Virgin Galactic launch: Richard Branson

Virgin Galactic launch: Richard Branson after becoming an astronaut at 70 (Image: VIRGIN GALACTIC)

Virgin Galactic launch: Inside the spacecraft

Virgin Galactic launch: Inside the VSS Unity spacecraft (Image: VIRGIN GALACTIC)

4.25pm BST: VSS Unity detaches from mothership and blasts off into space

The VSS Unity has detached from the VMS Eve and will now coast into space using its rocket motor.

The spacecraft is travelling at speeds exceeding 2,000 miles an hour.

Unity is now soaring some 250,000ft high and climbing.

A Virgin Galactic live stream commentator said: “Everything is looking good and stable.”

4.15pm BST: Virgin Galactic to help set spaceflight record

According to astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, Virgin Galactic will help set a major spaceflight record today.

Once the VSS Unity’s crew of six enters suborbital space, a total of 16 people will be off-planet at once.

These include three astronauts onboard China’s Tiangong space station and the crew of the International Space Station (ISS).

Dr McDowell, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tweeted: “If today’s flight reaches space successfully it will set a record: there will be 16 humans in space simultaneously for the first time ever.

“It will also set a record for the number of Britons in space at once (3).”

Virgin Galactic launch: Richard Branson in spacecraft

Virgin Galactic launch: Sir Richard Branson inside of the spacecraft (Image: VIRGIN GALACTIC)

Virgin Galactic launch: VSS Unity

Virgin Galactic launch: The spacecraft will spend about four minutes in weightlessness (Image: VIRGIN GALACTIC)

4.08pm BST: Virgin Galactic live stream plagued with errors

Virgin Galactic’s official live stream of the Unity 22 mission was off to a rocky start.

The broadcast began after Richard Branson and crew took off aboard the VSS unity and spaceflight fans around the world are complaining about technical issues.

One person tweeted: “I didn’t know the livestream was going to be a 30+ minute promotional video.

“When do we actually get to see the onboard footage?”

Another person said: “I really thought we were going to see the entire walkout and launch.

“The livestream picked up while they are already midair Woman facepalming.”

4pm BST: VSS Unity hits 40,000ft on its way towards space

The Virgin Galactic spacecraft has just passed the 40,000ft mark and is well on its way towards the next goal – spacecraft separation.

VSS Unity will detach from its mothership at an altitude of 45,000ft.

The spacecraft’s rocket engines will then kick in and push Unity and its crew to space.

3.52pm BST: Richard Branson and crew to experience weightlessness

Sir Richard and his three flight specialists are airborne and on their way towards suborbital space.

Once the crew reaches an altitude of about 56 miles (80km) the crew will spend about four minutes in weightlessness.

This will be the most thrilling part of the flight, allowing future space tourists a chance to see our planet from a whole new perspective.

Virgin Galactic: VSS Unity in the air

Virgin Galactic launch live: The VSS Unity is airborne and on its way to space (Image: VIRGIN GALACTIC)

Virgin Galactic spacecraft launch

Virgin Galactic launch: Sir Richard and crew have launched into space (Image: SKY NEWS YOUTUBE)

3.41pm BST: Richard Branson takes off on the VSS Unity

Richard Branson and crew are on their way to space, having launched from the Spaceport America launchpad.

A launch commentator said at the site: “What a beautiful take off.”

The spacecraft is being lofted into the air by the VMS Eve aircraft, before blasting off into space.

Unity will fly up to an altitude of about 56 miles (80km) – an altitude NASA says is the border of space.

However, most of the world disagrees and considers space to begin 62 miles up (100km).

3.32pm BST: Virgin Galactic crew heads out to the spacecraft.

According to CNBC’s Morgan Brennan, Sir Richard and the VSS Unity crew are on their way to the spacecraft.

The American news anchor tweeted a photo from the Spaceport America runway, saying some 500 people have gathered to watch the launch.

She tweeted: “Richard Branson and the rest of the #Unity22 crew head to the spaceship.”

Followed by: “500 folks on site here including 60 ‘future astronauts’ and most of the $SPCE board…oh, and Elon Musk.”

3.30pm BST: Elon Musk wishes Richard Branson ‘godspeed’

Ahead of today’s flight, Sir Richard thanked the South African billionaire for heading down to New Mexico for the launch.

The Virgin mogul tweeted his heartfelt thanks, saying: “Thanks for being so typically supportive and such a good friend, Elon.

“Great to be opening up space for all – safe travels and see you at Spaceport America! #Unity22 @virgingalactic”

Mr Musk replied today, saying: “Godspeed!”

3.20pm BST: Singer Khalid to debut new single to celebrate Virgin Galactic’s launch

The American singer and songwriter has partnered with Virgin Galactic to mark the company’s historic spaceflight.

Khalid will debut his new single, New Normal, before the launch and you can hear it on the company’s official live stream.

The song will be played to the mission’s crew before liftoff.

The singer said: “I am so excited and honoured to be performing at this historic event.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to go to space and it’s incredible that Virgin Galactic is working to make space accessible for people to explore in the very near future… I can’t wait to perform for all of them upon their return to Earth.!

3.10pm BST: Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin wishes Virgin Galactic good luck

Virgin Galactic’s biggest competitor, Blue Origin, has wished the company a “great flight”.

The Blue Origin Twitter account and founder Jeff Bezos shared their wishes on social media.

The former Amazon CEO, in particular, shared a photo of Mr Branson to his Instagram account with the caption: “@richardbranson wishing you and the whole team a successful and safe flight tomorrow. Best of luck!”

This comes despite Blue Origin taking a shot at .

Virgin Galactic: Richard Branson and Elon Musk

Virgin Galactic launch live: Elon Musk will watch the launch from New Mexico (Image: RICHARD BRANSON TWITTER)

2.45pm BST: Elon Musk arrives at Spaceport America

South African billionaire and SpaceX chief Elon Musk has arrived at Spaceport America to watch the Virgin Galactic launch.

The tech mogul has already met with Sir Richard and the two were pictured together, arm-in-arm.

Sir Richard posted an image of the two spaceflight entrepreneurs on Twitter.

He said: “Big day ahead. Great to start the morning with a friend. Feeling good, feeling excited, feeling ready.”

1.10pm BST:

Today’s flight was originally pencilled in to launch just after 2pm BST.

However, unfortunate weather conditions overnight have forced the company to delay the mission by 90 minutes.

Virgin Galactic is now on schedule to launch after 3.30pm BST.

The company said: “Overnight weather delayed the start of flight preparations, but we are on track to fly today with a newly scheduled time.”

Harry Byrne

Harry Byrne

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