Published: Sat, December 15, 2018
Research | By Wilma Wheeler

Virgin Galactic tourism rocket ship reaches space in test

Virgin Galactic tourism rocket ship reaches space in test

"If we have a very good day, we could potentially have the first space flight into space of Virgin Galactic, so that would be a big milestone from our personal company and then on a national level, I think this would be the first human spaceflight from American soil into space since the retirement of the USA space shuttle", stated George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic.

"SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space", tweeted Virgin Galactic.

The SpaceShipTwo after flying to space. As of this writing, NASA is unable to send astronauts on its own to sub-orbit let alone to orbit. Virgin Galactic completed the first crewed spaceflight from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011. During the launch, the spacecraft achieved speeds of just under mach 3.0 (3 times the speed of sound).

Soon, the vehicle pointed nearly straight up, as it streaked through the same skies over the California desert where Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier in 1947.

Then, two pilots on the VSS Unity fire the engines toward the frontier of space, typically defined as an altitude of 100 km.

Branson, wearing a leather bomber jacket, hugged his son as the spacecraft raced upwards and a commentator called out the altitude.

As VSS Unity returned to Earth, it fanned out a large tail that will guide the plane back through the Earth's atmosphere and toward Mojave for a runway landing.

Virgin Galactic, which is focused on space tourism, aims to use SpaceShipTwo to take paying customers for a short journey to and from space.

Virgin space tourist carrier
An artist’s impression of the Virgin SpaceShipTwo

The two pilots aboard VSS Unity on Thursday will be awarded commercial astronaut wings from the The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees commercial space travel. Branson himself has already stated that he will be the first to ride as a passenger after the craft is fully tested. Its previous test flight reached 52km.

Fourteen years after the company's founding, it's finally made it to space-just. But the long-held view is the boundary is 62 miles.

The milestone also means the company is closer to launching space tourists. In 2014, the aircraft crashed and burned during a test-flight, killing one of the pilots manning the vessel.

A replacement craft, the VSS Unity, made its maiden flight earlier this year. Branson said the company would "soon" start building two more SpaceShipTwo vehicles as well as a second WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

"Space is not cheap", he said.

"Incremental flight test programs are by definition open-ended and, to a great extent, each test depends on the data from the test that precedes it, ' Galactic said regarding this weeks test".

Offstage, a more subdued Branson, huddling with a group of reporters, said he shed "tears of relief" after the successful flight. Three technicians were killed in 2007 by an explosion while testing a propellant system at Scaled Composites LLC, which built SpaceShipOne and was building the first SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic.

Eventually, the company would like to turn those spaceports into "future hubs for a network of intercontinental transportation nodes" where the spaceships can transport people across the globe in a matter of hours.

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