Virgin Galactic plane skims space in historic human test flight

15 December, 2018, 13:57 | Author: Ann Santiago
  • Virgin Galactic could soon reach space for the first time

The plane returned to a normal flying configuration before gliding to land on the Mojave Air and Space Port runway. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has said he wants to be one of the first on board.

Mr Branson greeted the two pilots after the test, declaring: "Space is Virgin territory!" The flight was the first by the vehicle to cross the boundary of 50 miles, or approximately 80 kilometers, that US government agencies use to award astronaut wings. That is different from a long-held view that the boundary is at 100 kilometres.

That prize was collected in October 2004 by the group behind SpaceShipOne, whose design Virgin Galactic adapted for VSS Unity and its other piloted, six-passenger spaceliners (which are collectively termed SpaceShipTwo vehicles).

Virgin's ultimate goal is to build a series of spaceports around the globe, "and we're operating multiple times a week at each one of those and enabling tens of thousands of people to experience space", George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic's chief executive, said in a recent interview. "There is no guarantee that everything will work perfectly first time and, like all programs seeking to take bold steps, we will inevitably have times when things don't go as planned".

Virgin Space Ship Unity was released from a carrier aircraft over California's Mojave Desert early Thursday and ignited its rocket engine.

The two pilots on board Virgin Galactic's spacecraft Unity became the company's first astronauts.

Unity's rocket burned for a total of 60 seconds, catapulting the spacecraft to a speed of Mach 2.9 - 2.9 times the speed of sound or 2,225 miles per hour.

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.

At a basic level, this flight will aim to fly higher and faster.

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The test demonstrates significant progress toward the start of commercial flights that were promised more than a decade ago.

A University of Florida experiment studying plant growth response to microgravity environments was also among the four investigations selected by NASA's Flight Opportunities program.

So far, more than 600 people have signed up, paying as much as $250,000.

"We made it to space", the company said on Twitter."We travelled at 2.9 Mach on the way up to today".

The rocket is shut down and the craft coasts to the top of its climb - and then begins a descent slowed and stabilized by unique "feathering" technology.

The company also plans to restart marketing of the rides, which had been halted in the aftermath of the 2014 crash that killed a test pilot.

The SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, landed from her maiden spaceflight in Mojave, CA, amid cheers from Richard Branson and the teams from Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company.

SpaceX, the company owned by Elon Musk, is focused on carrying equipment for Nasa's programmes - although they do hope to take a Japanese billionaire around the moon by 2023.



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