'Space tantalisingly close' for Sir Richard Branson after successful rocket test

07 April, 2018, 00:48 | Author: Elena Meyer
  • Virgin Galactic conducts first rocket-powered test since 2014 crash

Congratulations to the teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for a job well done today - and in recognition of their pursuit to open space and change the world for good. The successful test comes nearly four years after a fatal accident on an earlier version of the spaceship (See: Virgin Galactic space craft crashes in California, killing pilot during test flight).

The company has not yet announced a date for the start of passenger flights but is selling tickets for a ride aboard SpaceShipTwo at $250,000 U.S. a seat.

VSS Unity fired its rocket engine for 30 seconds yesterday, reaching a maximum altitude of 84,271 feet (25,686 meters) - that's almost 16 miles (25 kilometers) - and a top speed of Mach 1.87, Virgin Galactic representatives said.

The larger WhiteKnightTwo plane lifted Unity above the desert to an altitude of 46,500 feet before releasing the spacecraft. Unity also broke the sound barrier for the first time in today's test flight, reaching a speed of Mach 1.87, or about 1,434 miles per hour.

At around 50,000 feet, the pilots lowered the tail booms back into position.

In so doing they rode Unity through the transonic range and into supersonic flight - for the first time.

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Virgin Galactic's founder, British billionaire Richard Branson, says he intends to be on the first commercial flight. Images are courtesy of Virgin Galactic. The propulsion system was not a factor in the accident.

Virgin has performed seven unpowered glide tests since Unity was built in 2016.

The tail booms are known as "feathers" because their function is likened to the feathers of a badminton shuttlecock.

Branson couldn't contain his excitement on twitter following the test flight: "Data review to come, then on to the next flight". Successful powered flight, Mach 1.6. "While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead".

Virgin's spacecraft is unlike others because it is launched mid-flight by a larger plane called White Knight Two. Blue Origin's New Shepard design is different the the Virgin Galactic's vehicle, using a reusable capsule that takes off like a conventional rocket, then comes back to the ground via parachute. 'Another great test flight, another step closer to being NMReady'. Company officials said a year ago they hoped to begin flying tourists up to an altitude of 50 miles (80 kilometers) some time in 2018.

Virgin Galactic also envisions a fleet operating from Spaceport America in New Mexico, and plans to offer flights for research as well as satellite deployment.


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