Virgin Galactic to fly Richard Branson on Sunday: Where to watch
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Tribune News Service) — Virgin Galactic aims to reach space again Sunday, and this time it's to be livestreamed.
The commercial spaceliner plans to launch a full crew on the space plane VSS Unity, including the company's founder, Richard Branson — a long-anticipated milestone in the final test phase before Virgin Galactic commences commercial passenger service to the edge of space.
The "Unity 22" mission — the 22nd test flight of the craft, which launches from the air after being carried to a high altitude by the aircraft VMS Eve — is scheduled Sunday morning, pending weather and technical conditions, and is subject to change.
Spaceport America, the base of Virgin Galactic's flight operations and located in Sierra County, will be closed to the public and has discouraged visitors from attempting to view the launch near the facility.
The spaceport is near Upham in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin, an area without commercial services nearby, and a spokesperson said Tuesday the road leading to the entrance of the spaceport will be closed to the public.
Watch parties are planned in the neighboring cities of Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces, however, with live footage streamed by Virgin Galactic. Here's where to watch:
Space flight streamed online
The stream is anticipated to begin at approximately 7 a.m. Mountain Time.
Las Cruces, T or C watch parties
Las Cruces is planning watch parties in two locations Sunday morning. The public may watch at the Rio Grande Theatre at 211 N. Main St., downtown or the Las Cruces City Council Chambers at City Hall, 700 N. Main St.
According to Visit Las Cruces, the city's convention and visitors bureau, both events will welcome the public on a first-come-first-served basis, with doors opening at 6:30 a.m.
In the seat of Sierra County 30 miles from the spaceport, the public is invited to watch the live stream at the Truth or Consequences Civic Center, at 400 W. Fourth St.
The mission will be Virgin Galactic's fourth crewed space flight, and the second launched from New Mexico.
On May 22, pilots C.J. Sturckow and Dave Mackay reached an altitude of 55.45 miles and a top speed of Mach 3 before gliding to a safe landing.
The federal space agency NASA considers the boundary of space to be 50 miles above sea level, while the measure used by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale — a boundary known as the Kármán Line — is 62 miles.
A crew of six is planned for Sunday's flight, including pilots Mackay and Michael Masucci and four mission specialists: Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses; lead operations engineer Colin Bennett; Virgin Galactic executive Sirisha Bandla; and Branson.
Sturckow and Kelly Lattimer will pilot the carrier aircraft VMS Eve.
The mission will evaluate the performance of the passenger cabin and the passenger experience among other objectives. According to the company, Bandla will also be responsible for a research payload from the University of Florida.
Branson's flight has been promoted as a key milestone to Virgin Galactic's program as the company looks to resume ticket sales for a 90-minute ride that has previously gone for $250,000 with approximately 600 seats reserved. Virgin also holds contracts to fly research payloads as well as Italian Air Force personnel training to be astronauts.
More recently, Branson's flight has also become a goal in what has been portrayed as a race by competing rocket company owners to look down over the Earth. The rivalry has been a theme in press coverage of space tech entrepreneurs Branson, Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin and Elon Musk of SpaceX.
Bezos plans to fly on his company's fully automated New Shepard capsule on July 20, giving rise to speculation Branson would aim to fly first.
During a recent interview on CNBC, asked point blank if he was trying to beat Bezos into space, Branson replied, "Jeff who?" before breaking into laughter.
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