Virgin Galactic could send its tourist rocket to space THIS WEEK

Virgin Galactic could send one of its rockets into space for the first time this week.

Richard Branson’s space firm says its next test flight, currently scheduled for Thursday, will  ‘burn the rocket motor for durations which will see our pilots and spaceship reach a space altitude for the first time.’

Branson has previously said his space tourism firm will carry passengers beyond orbit ‘not too long after’ that – with him on the first flight.

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The planned 42 seconds rocket burn took pilots and spaceship through the Stratosphere and, at an apogee of 170,800 ft, pictured, into an areas of the atmosphere known as the Mesosphere for the first time. 'Dark sky, blue glow, totally amazing; a million dollar view' Michael 'Sooch' Masucci, Pilot VSS Unity, said.

The planned 42 seconds rocket burn took pilots and spaceship through the Stratosphere and, at an apogee of 170,800 ft, pictured, into an areas of the atmosphere known as the Mesosphere for the first time. 'Dark sky, blue glow, totally amazing; a million dollar view' Michael 'Sooch' Masucci, Pilot VSS Unity, said.

Virgin Galactic’s last saw a 42 seconds rocket burn , taking pilots and spaceship through the Stratosphere and, at an apogee of 170,800 ft, pictured, into an areas of the atmosphere known as the Mesosphere for the first time. ‘Dark sky, blue glow, totally amazing; a million dollar view’ Michael ‘Sooch’ Masucci, Pilot VSS Unity, said.

HOW HIGH WILL IT GO? 

Virgin has not specified what it means by ‘space altitude,’ but company officials have previously said they were using the altitude of 50 miles, or approximately 80 kilometers, used by NASA and the U.S. Air Force for awarding astronaut wings.

‘For Virgin Galactic, the major milestone that we perceive is the altitude at which NASA and Air Force folks get their astronaut wings, which is 50 miles,’ George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said last month. 

 

‘Our SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, is entering the next stage of testing,’ Galactic said.

‘During this phase of the flight program we will be expanding the envelope for altitude, air speed, loads, and thermal heating. 

‘We also plan to burn the rocket motor for durations which will see our pilots and spaceship reach a space altitude for the first time. 

‘Although this could happen as soon as the next flight, the nature of flight test means that it may take us a little longer to get to that milestone.’

Virgin has not specified what it means by ‘space altitude,’ but company officials have previously said they were using the altitude of 50 miles, or approximately 80 kilometers, used by NASA and the U.S. Air Force for awarding astronaut wings.

‘For Virgin Galactic, the major milestone that we perceive is the altitude at which NASA and Air Force folks get their astronaut wings, which is 50 miles,’ George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said last month. 

‘For us and our customers, I think we’ll be focused on 50 miles, at least at the start.’

Bransonis in a race with SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to be the first to send paying tourists into space.

Virgin Galactic, which is charging £190,000 ($250,000) for a spot on one of its commercial flights, has previously said it would send passengers to space in 2019.

The multi-millionaire admitted earlier this year that the number of spurious claims he has made about Virgin Galactic flight dates was ’embarrassing’.

‘Incremental flight test programs are by definition open-ended and, to a great extent, each test depends on the data from the test that precedes it,’ Galactic said regarding this weeks test.

‘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.’  

The window for the fourth powered test flight opens on December 13, 2018. 

‘If all goes to plan our pilots will experience an extended period of micro-gravity as SpaceShipTwo coasts to apogee, although they will remain securely strapped in throughout. 

‘They should also have some pretty spectacular views which we look forward to sharing as soon as possible post flight.’

Virgin Galactic test pilots Dave Mackay and Mike 'Sooch' Masucci took the VSS Unity to 2.47 times the speed of sound, reaching an apogee of 170,800 ft. Pictured, the craft touching down after the flight

Virgin Galactic test pilots Dave Mackay and Mike 'Sooch' Masucci took the VSS Unity to 2.47 times the speed of sound, reaching an apogee of 170,800 ft. Pictured, the craft touching down after the flight

Richard Branson’s space firm says its next test flight, currently scheduled for Thursday, will ‘burn the rocket motor for durations which will see our pilots and spaceship reach a space altitude for the first time.’ 

The fledgling space firm also plans to carry four research payloads that are part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

‘Whether we complete all our objectives during the next flight or need to wait a little longer, we remain committed to completing the final stages of this extraordinary flight test program as quickly, but more importantly as safely, as possible.’

Virgin Galactic is 'weeks away' from sending one of its rockets into space for the first time, according to founder and chairman Sir Richard Branson. He said his space tourism firm will carry passengers beyond orbit 'not too long after' that (file photo)

Virgin Galactic is 'weeks away' from sending one of its rockets into space for the first time, according to founder and chairman Sir Richard Branson. He said his space tourism firm will carry passengers beyond orbit 'not too long after' that (file photo)

Virgin Galactic is ‘weeks away’ from sending one of its rockets into space for the first time, according to founder and chairman Sir Richard Branson. He said his space tourism firm will carry passengers beyond orbit ‘not too long after’ that (file photo)

Virgin Galactic, founded by Branson in 2004, is working to carry tourists on a brief journey to space, dozens of miles above the Earth’s surface.

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.

Pictured is Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spacecraft during a test flight earlier this year. The company is charging a reported £190,000 ($250,000) for a spot on one of its commercial flights

Pictured is Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spacecraft during a test flight earlier this year. The company is charging a reported £190,000 ($250,000) for a spot on one of its commercial flights

Pictured is Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spacecraft during a test flight earlier this year. The company is charging a reported £190,000 ($250,000) for a spot on one of its commercial flights

For comparison, astronauts at the orbiting International Space Station fly some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

The company first promised to fly tourists into space by the start of 2009, but multiple delays and a fatal test flight crash in 2014 have pushed its first spaceflight back numerous times.

Virgin Galactic completed its first supersonic flight since the infamous crash, which killed one test pilot and severely injured another, earlier this year, bringing it closer to its goal of offering commercial spaceflight to the 600 patrons who have paid $250,000 for a ride.

Branson said ‘ultimately’ he would like to see the price fall to around £30,000 ($40,000) or £38,000 ($50,000) over the next ten years.

WHAT ARE THE TOP ALTITUDES REACHED BY VIRGIN GALACTIC, BLUE HORIZONS AND SPACEX?

Three companies are leading the charge in commercial space travel as they race to get tourists beyond orbit.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s firm SpaceX, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are all vying to be the first companies to send up the first commercial space flight.

But while Sir Richard believes Musk is ‘doing fantastically well’ in getting cargo into space – including his own car – the real tussle is between the Virgin boss and Bezos.

Musk has reached dizzying heights with his numerous private space deliveries to the International Space Station at an altitude of around 1.4 million feet (408,000 metres), but is yet to fly any of his planned passenger-carrying craft.

The New Shepard Rocket launching on its eighth overall test flight near Van Horn, Texas

The New Shepard Rocket launching on its eighth overall test flight near Van Horn, Texas

Blue Origin flew its New Shepherd spacepod, which launches aboard a traditional rocket capsule, to an altitude of 351,000 feet (107,000 metres) during a test flight near Van Horn, Texas, on April 29 (pictured)

Virgin Galactic reached a top altitude of 170,800 feet (52,000 metres) during a test of its VSS Unity spacecraft, which has room for six passenger and is lifted toward space on a huge carrier aricraft, on May 29.

Eventually, the company wants to fly space tourists to an altitude of 360,890 feet (110,000 metres) going beyond the 328,000 feet (100,000 metres) defined boundary of space. 

Blue Origin flew its New Shepherd spacepod, which launches aboard a traditional rocket capsule, to an altitude of 351,000 feet (107,000 metres) during a test flight near Van Horn, Texas, on April 29.

The reusable New Shepard rocket and spacecraft is intended to carry up to six space tourists, researchers and/or experiments on brief suborbital flights, the company has said. 

Plans call for six passengers and two pilots to ride the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured), which resembles a private jet. The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft - the WhiteKnightTwo - from which it will detach at around 49,000 feet (15,000 meters)

Plans call for six passengers and two pilots to ride the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured), which resembles a private jet. The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft - the WhiteKnightTwo - from which it will detach at around 49,000 feet (15,000 meters)

Plans call for six passengers and two pilots to ride the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured), which resembles a private jet. The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft – the WhiteKnightTwo – from which it will detach at around 49,000 feet (15,000 meters)

Plans call for six passengers and two pilots to ride the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which resembles a private jet.

The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft – the WhiteKnightTwo – from which it will detach at around 49,000 feet (15,000 meters.)

Once released, the spaceship will fire up its rocket, and head for the sky.

Passengers will float in zero-gravity for several minutes, before coming back to Earth.

The total trip time would last between 90 minutes and two hours. 

HOW DOES RICHARD BRANSON’S VIRGIN GALACTIC CONDUCT ITS SPACE FLIGHTS?

Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch.

Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo.

WhiteKnightTwo is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres).

The first WhiteKnightTwo, VMS Eve – which Virgin Galactic has used on all of its test flights – was rolled-out in 2008 and has a high-altitude, heavy payload capacity.

Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch. Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Once SpaceShipTwo has propelled itself into space its engines shut off for a period of weightlessness before returning home

Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch. Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Once SpaceShipTwo has propelled itself into space its engines shut off for a period of weightlessness before returning home

Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch. Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Once SpaceShipTwo has propelled itself into space its engines shut off for a period of weightlessness before returning home

Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space.

Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity – the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights – though the firm is expected to build more in future.

Once released from WhiteKnightTwo, SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor engages ‘within seconds’, according to Virgin Galactic.

The craft will then fly approximately three and a half times the speed of sound (2,600mph/4,300kph) into suborbital space, reaching up to 360,890ft (110,000 metres) above the Earth’s surface.

WhiteKnightTwo (artist's impression) is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres)

WhiteKnightTwo (artist's impression) is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres)

WhiteKnightTwo (artist’s impression) is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres)

This altitude is defined as beyond the edge of outer space by Nasa.

After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, the pilots will shut it down, and passengers can then take off their seatbelts to experience weightlessness for several minutes.

The pilots will manoeuvre the spaceship to give the best possible views of Earth and space while raising the vehicle’s wings to its ‘feathered’ re-entry configuration, which decelerates the craft and stabilises its descent.

As gravity pulls the spaceship back towards the Earth’s upper atmosphere, astronauts will return to their seats ready to return to our planet.

At around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres), after re-entry, the pilot will return the spaceship’s wings to their normal configuration, ready to glide back to Earth for a smooth runway landing. 

Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured) - the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights - though the firm is expected to produce more in future

Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured) - the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights - though the firm is expected to produce more in future

Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured) – the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights – though the firm is expected to produce more in future

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