Virgin Galactic plane skims space in historic human test flight

14 December, 2018, 09:57 | Author: Corey Lynch
  • Stratolaunch to begin operations in 2020

The carrier airplane hauled the SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket plane to an altitude of about 45,000 feet (13.7 kms) and released it. Seconds later, SpaceShipTwo fired, catapulting it to more than 51 miles (82 km) above Earth, high enough for the pilots, Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow, to experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet.

"How on Earth do I describe the feeling?" he said on stage, referring to his emotions from watching the successful test flight.

In 2016, he unveiled a new spaceplane, dubbed Unity, and the company started its test program again, slowly pushing the envelope on test flight after test flight.

It surpassed the height the US Air Force considers the boundary of space (80km), and marks the first manned flight to space from US soil since 2011. Between bad weather, mechanical troubles and adjustments, and ensuring that its safety pilots are not put in unnecessary danger. It was the first spacecraft with humans aboard to be launched from United States soil and reach space since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, and it marked a milestone for the commercial space industry, which also includes companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, and Boeing. "What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century's defining industries", said Whitesides, in a statement.

Just after 8:00 am PT, VSS Unity detached from the mothership and lit its rocket engine, swooping directly upward.

So the company went to work on updating the design, ultimately rolling out the ship flown Thursday, which goes by the name VSS Unity. That means VSS Unity could reach space as soon as Thursday, but Virgin admits that it could take much longer to reach that milestone.

The plane re-entered the atmosphere at 2.5 times the speed of sound and landed safely a few minutes later. The spaceship will also be used for research: NASA had a science experiment on the test flight. "Space is not cheap", he said.

For Branson, the launch was the culmination of years' worth of lofty dreams and tragic setbacks as he sought to build what he calls "the world's first commercial spaceline". Branson met the pilots after the flight and declared "Space is Virgin territory!"

Based on the success of Thursday's launch, Virgin Galactic plans to move ahead with full-duration burns of the SpaceShipTwo rocket, about 60 seconds.

More than 600 people from 50 countries have reserved places to fly with Virgin Galactic when all testing has been completed.

"I've been so proud of the [Virgin Galactic] team, how they've responded to [the tragedy] and really moved forward with a sense of urgency", Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told CNN Business two weeks ago.

Virgin Galactic took one giant leap yesterday as two test pilots flew its VSS Unity passenger rocket-ship to the edge of space for the first time. We started Virgin almost 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge, Branson said via a company-issued release.


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