Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Virgin Galactic plane skims space in historic human test flight

Virgin Galactic could attempt test flight of SpaceShipTwo today Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. Image Virgin Galactic
Doris Mccormick | 18 December, 2018, 19:56

The Mojave, Calif., launch was the fourth test flight of the SpaceShipTwo Unity, reports Space.com, which has photos.

On the December 13 test flight, SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket motor burned for 60 seconds, several seconds longer than the high end of estimates of the burn time company officials gave at a briefing the day before.

CEO George Whitesides says that's the standard used by the Air Force and other US agencies. But the long-held view is the boundary is 62 miles.

Slung from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, the rocketplane was hauled to 46,500 feet and then released.

The spaceship ignited its rocket engine and it quickly hurtled upward and out of sight of viewers on the ground. Its rocket plane, SpaceShipTwo, reached the edge of space Thursday for the first time, climbing to an altitude of 51.4 miles during a flight carrying test pilots.

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The mission was piloted by Mark "Forger" Stucky and C.J Sturckow (as noted on NASASpaceFlight, Sturckow is no stranger to space having traveled there four times on board NASA's retired fleet of shuttles). "Sometime next year, once the testing is finished, then I'll do my flight", he said.

The company said the space ship's motor burned for 60 seconds, travelling at 2.9 times the speed of sound as it gained height. In addition to the pilots, the spaceship carried four NASA research payloads and a mannequin named Annie. He said that the total investment was about $1.3 to 1.5 billion, a total Whitesides said later included not just Virgin Galactic but also spacecraft manufacturer The Spaceship Company and small launch vehicle firm Virgin Orbit.

The test demonstrates significant progress toward the start of commercial flights that were promised more than a decade ago. Today, the aerospace company successfully launched four NASA-supported technologies and two fearless test pilots aboard the suborbital space plane into space and then landed safely back on Earth.

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is gearing up to finally send its tourism rocket ship to the edge of space. Famous people including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and music star Justin Bieber are among them. So far, more than 600 people have ponied up some $250,000 for a 90-minute flight on one of Virgin's suborbital missions, including Justin Bieber and Citibike enthusiast Leonardo DiCaprio. Branson shunned the money after learning about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in October. 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.

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