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New era: Space tourism

Newsman: The British entrepreneur Richard Branson reached space on a test flight for Virgin Galactic and back to earth, touching down safely on a rocket-powered vehicle developed by his space tourism company, Virgin Galactic.Branson earned his astronaut wings Sunday

The Virgin Group founder launched Sunday with three company employees, flying 53 miles above the earth in a final test mission before kicking off commercial space flights next year. Branson – who earned his pilot’s license – tested the astronaut cabin experience.

Virgin Galactic livestream picture

Live stream of his mission by the company showed Branson and the three others in zero gravity. On Sunday, the company successfully completed its fully crewed test flight into suborbital space, a major milestone in the commercial space race and a step toward its goal of commercial service in 2022.

But the shares of Virgin Galactic slipped on Monday after the company filed to sell up to $500 million in common stock. This follows the commercial spaceflight company’s successful test flight with founder Sir Richard Branson. The shares changed hands at $42.25, around 12:15 p.m. ET, after rising as much as 7% in premarket trading. The stock is up more than 80% so far this year in anticipation of this progress toward commercial service. Virgin Galactic has 240 million shares outstanding and a float of 68.6%, according to FactSet. Float represents the number of shares a company has issued to the public to trade. Based on Friday’s closing price of $49.20, Virgin’s $500 million offering would equate to nearly 10.2 million shares.

New era of space tourism
New era of space tourism

The company’s spacecraft, VSS Unity, launched into the skies above New Mexico on Sunday, with two pilots guiding the vehicle carrying the billionaire founder and three Virgin Galactic employees. VSS Unity fired its rocket engine and accelerated to faster than three times the speed of sound in a climb to the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity is designed to hold up to six passengers along with the two pilots. The company has about 600 reservations for tickets on future flights, sold at prices between $200,000 and $250,000 each. Virgin Galactic also announced it is partnering with sweepstakes company Omaze to offer a chance at two seats on “one of the first commercial Virgin Galactic spaceflights” early next year.

However, Virgin Galactic, which trades under the ticker SPCE, fell more than 14% after it filed notice of its stock sale offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Trading in Virgin Galactic was briefly halted Monday morning due to volatility.

After landing, Branson tweeted that going to space was “more magical than I ever imagined.”

Branson tweeted a photo of him with SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk Sunday morning, saying he is “feeling good, feeling excited, feeling ready.”

“Big day ahead,” Branson wrote. “Great to start the morning with a friend.”

“The future of space tourism in New Mexico is getting one step closer!” Virgin Galactic tweeted Saturday. The company reported that overnight weather prevented crews from starting flight preparations and delayed liftoff by 90 minutes.

Crowds greeted Branson as he arrived for the launch. He waved, smiled and flashed thumbs up in return.

They rode in SpaceShipTwo – Virgin’s craft designed for tourism – to reach suborbital space. The vessel was built by Virgin Galactic’s sister company, The Spaceship Company, according to Space.

SpaceShipTwo already set records by flying beyond the U.S. Air Force’s defined boundary of space in 2018, reaching an altitude of 51.4 miles.

Elon Musk offered his best wishes and “Godspeed!” for the Virgin Galactic flight.

Rival tech billionaire Jeff Bezos, who has raced with Branson to be the first into space with his Blue Origin spaceflights, sent his own well-wish Saturday ahead of Unity 22.

“Wishing you and the whole team a successful and safe flight tomorrow,” Bezos wrote in an Instagram caption alongside a smiling picture of Branson. “Best of luck!”

Musician Khalid was expected to perform his single “New Normal” at Spaceport America after the landing.

In 2004, Branson founded Virgin Galactic to fly private passengers to space. Branson was not previously expected to fly on Sunday’s spaceflight but after fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos announced he would fly on his company Blue Origin’s first passenger flight on July 20, Virgin Galactic rearranged its schedule — aiming to fly Branson nine days before Bezos.

 Launching ahead of Bezos or Elon Musk, Sunday’s flight means Branson is the first of the billionaire space company founders to ride his own spacecraft.

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