Virgin Galactic sends manned shuttle to the outskirts of space
A Virgin Galactic manned shuttle performed a rocket-powered flight from New Mexico to the outskirts of space.
The VSS Unity rocket engine has sent the ship and two pilots into space as the company prepares to offer sightseeing flights on the edge of Earth’s atmosphere.
A live feed from NASASpaceFlight.com showed the rocket accelerating upward, estimated a maximum altitude of at least 50 miles, and confirmed a later landing via radar.
Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson confirmed in a Twitter message that the two pilots and a NASA-owned research payload have reached space.
“Today was just an incredible step in the right direction,” Sir Richard told The Associated Press shortly after the flight landed. “He tested a lot of new systems that the teams built and they all worked.”
Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said at least two more test flights are on the way – the next with four mission specialist passengers in the cabin.
“Today’s flight was elegant, beautiful,” said Mr. Colglazier. “We’re going to analyze all the data that we collect from these flights, but looking from the ground and talking with our pilots, it was wonderful. So it’s time for us to start over. “
The company aims for commercial operations to begin next year after testing and a few months of downtime for maintenance and other upgrades.
These tests will include a flight that will take Sir Richard to the edge of space later this year.
The first motorized test in New Mexico from Spaceport America was repeatedly delayed ahead of Saturday’s launch.
In December 2020, computer problems caused by electromagnetic interference prevented the spacecraft’s rocket from firing properly.
Instead of flying into space, the ship and its two pilots were forced to make an immediate landing.
While Virgin Galactic’s share price soared this week with the news of the last test scheduled for Saturday, that was not enough to overcome losses seen since a peak in February.
Some analysts have warned that it could be some time before the company sees profits as the exact start of trading is still pending.
Virgin Galactic is one of the few companies looking to take advantage of customers interested in space.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX will launch a billionaire and his contest winners in September. This should be followed in January 2022 by a flight of three businessmen to the International Space Station.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launched a new capsule in January as part of testing to get its program off the ground for tourists, scientists and professional astronauts.
It plans to take off its first crewed flight on July 20, the date of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Virgin Galactic has already reached space twice – the first time was from California in December 2018. The company celebrated its second successful glide over Spaceport America last June.
Preparations for the last attempt included a maintenance review of the special carrier aircraft that flies the six-passenger spacecraft at high altitude, where it is released so it can fire its rocket engine and make the final push. towards space.
Flights are designed to reach an altitude of at least 50 miles before the rocket engine is turned off and the crew prepares to re-enter the atmosphere and hover for a landing.
As part of the return trip, a feathering system slows down and stabilizes the craft as it re-enters the atmosphere.