Virgin Galactic Completes Successful Flight in Big Boost for Space Tourism

Virgin Galactic's First Spaceflight on December 13th 2018
Date:14 December 2018 Author: Adrian Brown Tags:,

Virgin Galactic’s ambitions to make space tourism a reality were given a great boost when the company successfully reached space, or something like it, during a test flight on Thursday.

SpaceShipTwo, the company’s suborbital space plane, was ferried to an altitude of 50,000 feet by WhiteKnightTwo, a twin-fuselage carrier aircraft. Once released from its mothership, SpaceShipTwo activated its rocket motor and soared to an altitude of about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface.

The company shared live updates on Twitter throughout the mission:


Including when the aircraft reached its maximum altitude:


The company shared some figures about the journey as well, noting the spacecraft exceeded its 50-mile altitude goal, albeit by a small margin, and reached a maximum speed of 2.9 mach.


SpaceShipTwo landed back at California’s Mojave Airport around 8:15 a.m. PST.


This marked the fourth test of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. The company used the occasion to test the aircraft’s various in-flight capabilities, flying it higher than all previous missions and burning the rocket motor for a longer period of time. In a press release on Wednesday, the company further elaborated on the purpose of the mission:

“[It will reveal] new and important data points, particularly relating to supersonic handling qualities and thermal dynamics, both of which we will be watching closely in the cockpit and on the ground in Mission Control. These observations will largely determine at what stage we decide to shut the rocket motor down.”

Though Virgin Galactic will eventually serve as the space-tourism arm of CEO Richard Branson’s aerospace empire, SpaceShipTwo was ferrying four payloads from NASA, meant to collect data to be used in the space agency’s future missions.

NASA contracted with Virgin Galactic through its Flight Opportunities program. The agency was particularly excited about Virgin’s help with its Collisions Into Dust Experiment (COLLIDE), which aims to map the behavior of dust particles on planetary surfaces.

The triumph was something of a vindication for Branson and SpaceShipTwo. In 2014, the aircraft crashed and burned during a test flight, killing one of the pilots manning the vessel.


Originally posted on Popular Mechanics

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