Wednesday, 20 March, 2019


Virgin Galactic’s new flight test to soar closer to edge of space

Virgin Galactic’s new flight test to soar closer to edge of space Virgin Galactic’s new flight test to soar closer to edge of space
Kristine Garrett | 13 December, 2018, 23:54

Virgin Galactic has successfully launched a tourism rocket ship into space for the first time - with Sir Richard Branson hoping a commercial flight will take place by March 2019.

In the meantime, a burgeoning commercial space industry is rushing to close the gap, as companies hurry to complete spacecraft that can carry astronauts and tourists into microgravity. "We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos".

SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, took off in the early morning sunshine at the Mojave test centre in California on Thursday in front of hundreds of employees and their family members.

Virgin Galactic officials said Thursday's spaceflight represents an incredible opportunity, not just for the company, but for the future in general.

The US company run by British tycoon Richard Branson is aiming to be the first to take tourists on brief trips into microgravity. The rocket burnt for 60 seconds before being shut down, leaving the craft to coast to the top of its climb, reaching an altitude of 51.38 miles.

The commonly accepted worldwide definition of space is 62 miles high (100 km), but the US Air Force considers the space boundary to be a bit lower, at 50 miles.

Virgin Galactic is racing against other companies to send clients to space.

The successful flight marks significant progress toward the start of commercial flights that Virgin Galactic promised more than a decade ago.

That altitude goal is approximately 80 kilometers, or 50 miles. Competitors include Blue Origin - founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos - and Elon Musk's SpaceX whose unmanned Falcon 9 rocket has brought supply to the International Space Station for NASA.

The exact date of the flight to space was not announced, but Virgin says this milestone could be achieved as soon as Thursday. "There have been two people before that have flown winged spacecraft to space and back".

Virgin's latest flight test comes four years after the original SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight that killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot, dealing a major setback to Virgin Galactic, a USA offshoot of the London-based Virgin Group.

More than 600 clients have already paid $250,000 for a ticket.

"Commercial space has great potential for American economic and innovative leadership", Elwell said.

Once the flight reached 30,000 feet, Virgin Galactic pilots performed a series of cabin checks.

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