Has Branson really been in space? Suborbital flights explained


The Virgin Galactic project's VSS Unity spaceplane made its first flight with a full crew, which included the company's millionaire founder Richard Branson. Although it was branded as a space flight, it is a suborbital flight. Does this mean that it was not actually in space?

To answer this question it is necessary to first delimit what is considered outer space. Interestingly, there is no universal notion for the altitude where open space begins.

The International Aeronautical Federation has established the so-called Kármán line, which is located 100 kilometers from the Earth's surface, as the place where the atmosphere ends and space begins. For its part, the US grants the title of an astronaut to anyone who flies above 80 kilometers, since it considers that this is the altitude where space begins.

Therefore, according to the norms of the North American country, it can be considered that both the VSS Unity ships of Virgin Galactic and the New Shepard of Blue Origin, will reach space. However, it will be a suborbital flight, which is why these flights cannot be compared with the flights of spacecraft that are capable of reaching the International Space Station.

In essence, in the case of these two companies, the crew will only get to cross the border of space briefly, according to US regulations and here they will experience a few minutes of weightlessness. However, these ships will not go fast enough to stay in Earth's orbit.

If a spacecraft or anything else reaches a speed of 28,000 km / h or more, instead of falling to the ground, it will continually fall around the Earth. That steady drop is what it means to be in orbit and it's how satellites, the ISS, and the Moon stay above our planet.

Meanwhile, everything that is launched into space, but does not have enough horizontal speed to stay in it as is the case with these ships returns to Earth and therefore flies in a suborbital trajectory.

Why are these suborbital flights important?

Although the two spacecraft launched in July 2021 will not reach orbit, the achievement of reaching space in a private spacecraft is an important milestone in human history.

Those who go onboard these suborbital flights and all those that take place in the future in the private sector will spend a few minutes in space, will experience a few minutes of exhilarating weightlessness, and will earn their astronaut wings.

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