Friday, 22 March, 2019

Virgin Galactic sends tourist rocket into space for first time

Stratolaunch to begin operations in 2020 Virgin Galactic could soon reach space for the first time
Sandra Phillips | 13 December, 2018, 23:53

A test flight more than a decade in the making is scheduled to take place December 13 as Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle is set to make its highest and fastest flight to date, one that, if all goes well, will take it beyond one boundary of space.

In the meantime, a commercial space race is underway as companies rush to build spacecraft that can carry astronauts and tourists into microgravity.

SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, took off in the early morning sunshine at the Mojave test centre in California on Thursday in front of hundreds of employees and their family members.

In September, SpaceX said Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, founder and chief executive of online fashion retailer Zozo, would be the company's first passenger on a voyage around the moon on its forthcoming Big Falcon Rocket spaceship, tentatively scheduled for 2023. SpaceShipTwo reached space at 11:02 a.m. EST.

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.

Sir Richard added: "Space is Virgin territory!"

The planned sub-orbital lobs have been delayed repeatedly since the passenger-toting rocketplane's lavish unveiling back in 2009 and the firm has had to overcome a number of setbacks, including an incident that led to the inflight destruction of its predecessor in 2014 and the death of one of the two pilots onboard.

After the rocket plane topped 50-mile altitude, reaching an apogee of 51.4 miles above earth, a crying Branson high-fived and hugged spectators.

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Tourists will spend several minutes floating in zero gravity, aboard a spaceship that approaches or passes through the Karman line, the boundary of Earth's atmosphere and space, some 62 miles (100 kilometers) high.

The endeavor began in 2004 when Branson announced the founding of Virgin Galactic in the heady days after the flights of SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed manned spacecraft that made three flights into space.

"Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine". At a basic level, this flight will aim to fly higher and faster.

Branson told CNN in November he hoped to send people to space "before Christmas".

The next step hinges on when the VSS Unity can start flying some of the 600 people that have paid $250,000 per seat to touch the void.

"Commercial space has great potential for American economic and innovative leadership", Elwell said.

Virgin Galactic has not yet said when it plans on beginning its first passenger flights.

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