Friday, 18 January, 2019

U.S. Has Two More Astronauts Courtesy of Virgin Galactic

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity landing at the Mojave test centre in California after her test flight U.S. Has Two More Astronauts Courtesy of Virgin Galactic
Theresa Hayes | 19 December, 2018, 12:26

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.

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 above Earth, high enough for the pilots to experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet.

The company considers the altitude to be the boundary of space, which contradicts a long-held view that it is reached at 62 miles (100km).

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, added, "What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century's defining industries".

The company said that during the flight the spaceship reached Mach 2.9, almost three times the speed of sound, as it touched what it considers to be the edge of space.

The two pilots will attempt to launch the craft on a supersonic flight to the edge of space for the first time. Afterward, Branson was asked on CNBC when the company would start ferrying human passengers.

Take-off for the Virgin Galactic test flight of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity at the Mojave test centre in California

VSS Unity's peak altitude of 51.4 miles is similar to what Virgin Galactic has planned for commercial flights. Virgin celebrated the vessel's first encounter with space, but the company is using the loosest definition of "space".

The historic achievement has been recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration who announced December 13 that early next year they will present pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Sturckow, as a four-time space shuttle pilot, will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings.

The two test pilots - Mark "Forger" Stucky and former NASA astronaut Rick "CJ" Sturckow - will be awarded commercial astronaut wings, Federal Aviation Administration official Bailey Edwards said. If you have a trip to space on your mind, even on a very whimsical level, know that Richard Branson shares your vision. Branson himself will go up first, following several more test flights.

New versions of SpaceShipTwo are built by a Virgin Galactic sister company and flight testing is now in-house. "Space is not cheap", he said. Once the test program is finished next year, he said, the operation will move to Spaceport America, the futuristic facility in New Mexico where it intends to fly its tourist flights. Virgin's researchers are, however, favouring the lower figure as a more accurate representation.

It costs $250,000 (around £200,000) to book a seat on VSS Unity, which has room for six passengers and two pilots.

"Safety's all that matters if you're putting people into space", he said.