Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo could launch again next month

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo could launch again next month as the space tourism firm gears up to take billionaire Richard Branson to space in early 2021

  • Virgin Galactic revealed its founder Richard Branson will be its first passenger 
  • Branson is set to launch into Earth’s orbit in the spaceplane early 2021
  • The firm are sending a powered test flight into space by the end of Autumn 
  • Virgin Galactic competes with other ventures such as Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin 

Virgin Galactic will launch the next crewed test flight of SpaceShipTwo by the end of Autumn, according to a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The test flight will see two pilots launch for the edge of space from Spaceport America in New Mexico as early as October 22, the filing revealed.

This will likely be the penultimate test flight of the spacecraft, known as VSS Unity, before billionaire Richard Branson launches on the first commercial flight next year.

The firm has repeatedly pushed back the date it will take the first tourists outside Earth’s atmosphere due to the need for testing and refinement, but said 600 ‘future astronauts’ have already paid $250,000 to reserve a seat.   

This new FCC listing is for the first of two crewed test flights scheduled to launch from New Mexico before the first commercial flight in the first quarter of 2021. 

Scroll down for video 

Billionaire Richard Branson could launch into space aboard his Virgin Galactic aircraft as its first passenger early 2021, potentially blazing a path for commercial flights 

The first of the flights will see two pilots inside the VSS Unity cockpit launch from under the Virgin Mothership for the edge of space. 

If that flight is successful then the second test flight will include a crew of ‘mission specialists’ inside the recently revealed cabin, Virgin Galactic explained. 

‘Assuming both flights demonstrate the expected results, Virgin Galactic anticipates Sir Richard Branson’s flight to occur in the first quarter of 2021.’

These will be the first powered flights from the space tourism firms new base at Spaceport America in New Mexico and the first spaceflight since February 2019. 

The groundbreaking flight by Branson, Virgin Galactic’s founder, would pave the way for commercial voyages to begin. 

The spacecraft will be taken up by a special plane and released at high altitude. Seconds later, the spaceship will ignite its engine and blast upward with an acceleration of 3.5 g, meaning three and a half times that of Earth’s gravitational force

Virgin Galactic unveiled the design of the spaceplane cabin and seats  in a livestream on YouTube that presented its interior in virtual reality to let people really experience it

Before the first of the two test flights of VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic also plan to test the mothership – WhiteKnightTwo in four hours trips on October 1 and October 7. 

Virgin Galactic competes with billionaire-backed ventures such as Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin, which are all vying to usher in a new era of space tourism, racing to be the first to offer sub-orbital flights to civilian space travellers. 

Virgin Galactic offers zero-gravity experiences on board its SpaceShipTwo plane that is launched off the back of a larger aeroplane.

The firm has long-term point-to-point travel plans to quickly transport passengers from city to city at near-space altitudes as well as work with 

Almost a million people could eventually jet into space with Virgin Galactic, according to new research by global investment management firm Cowen. 

Oliver Chen, an analyst for Cowen, said on Monday that they had found ‘a high level of interest among high-net-worth individuals’. 

Chen calculated that Virgin Galactic’s ‘total addressable market’ was about 2.4 million people – taken from those with a net worth of more than $5 million.

Of those individuals, about 39 per cent are interested in paying at least $250,000 for a ticket – although the firm hasn’t confirmed the pricing for future tickets yet.

So far around 600 people have signed up – among those on the list are actors, musicians and business leaders – Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber are all rumoured to be on the list.

Virgin Galactic competes with billionaire-backed ventures such as Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin, which are all vying to usher in a new era of space tourism, racing to be the first to offer sub-orbital flights to civilian space travellers

The firm has repeatedly pushed back the date it will take the first tourists outside Earth’s atmosphere, but said 600 ‘future astronauts’ have already paid $250,000 to reserve a seat

Virgin Galactic worked with London design agency Seymourpowell on the cabin interior, described as ‘an elegant but progressive, experience-focused concept’

The program has been hit by serious snags, however, with a devastating crash in 2014 caused by pilot error delaying the development of SpaceShipTwo.

VIRGIN GALACTIC FLIGHTS ARE SPLIT INTO 6 ‘EXPERIENCES’ 

Each of the Virgin Galactic sub-orbital flights will be in six stages.

The focus is on the ‘future astronaut’ as they experience space and weightlessness  for the first time. 

The flight is split into six stages

01: Pre-flight

Passengers and family are welcomed at Spaceport America four days before their trip to the edge of space.

02: Climb

At this point the spaceship is still attached to the mothership and carries its crew to launch altitude.

03: Boost

Seconds after the spaceship is released from the mothership it fires the hybrid rocket motor behind the cabin and passes the sound barrier.

The sky slowly turns from blue to purple and finally to black.

04: Space

As the rocket motor shuts down the cabin goes from being in a 3.5G rocket to a weightless zone with a view of the Earth below.

This is a sudden and dramatic shift from the noise and pressure of rocket motors to the silence of space. 

05: Reentry

The atmosphere gets thicker outside as the spaceship descends and gravity returns for those in the cabin. 

Powerful airbrakes slow and stabilise the ship and it glides to the runway at Spaceport America.

06: Astronauts

When the astronauts return to Earth they will be greeted by friends and family and ‘get their wings’. 

Getting tourists into space is not a simple exercise – it takes a significant amount of engineering, time and training.

The spacecraft will be taken up by a special plane and released at high altitude. 

Seconds later, the spaceship will ignite its engine and blast upward with an acceleration of 3.5 g, meaning three and a half times that of Earth’s gravitational force.

It will then cut off the engine, which will create a feeling of weightlessness for a few minutes as the spacecraft reaches its highest point, about 50 miles above the planet, and then begin its descent.

It will glide to land at Spaceport America, built in the New Mexico desert.

Branson has set a series of aviation and nautical adventure records, although he failed, despite numerous attempts, to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe non-stop in a balloon.

These exploits brought Branson close to tragedy in 1998 when he and his co-pilot had to ditch their balloon in the Pacific Ocean after low pressure forced the craft down.

Virgin Galactic unveiled the design of the spaceplane cabin and seats last month in a livestream on YouTube that presented its interior in virtual reality to let people really experience it.

‘We will continue with that ethos as we expand our fleet, build our operations and underpin Virgin Galactic’s position as the Spaceline for Earth,’ Branson said.

‘This cabin has been designed specifically to allow thousands of people like you and me to achieve the dream of spaceflight safely – and that is incredibly exciting.’

Virgin Galactic worked with London design agency Seymourpowell on the cabin interior, described as ‘an elegant but progressive, experience-focused concept’.

It has been designed to ‘integrate seamlessly with every other aspect of the astronauts’ journey’ while also being the design centerpiece for Virgin Galactic.

‘The market for space travel is gigantic,’ said Branson in December 2018, when the first test flight reached space. 

‘The price will go up a little bit in the short term, and then in the next three years it will come down. And the more space craft we build, the lower the price will become.’

Chen wrote that one of the biggest challenges to the business was ‘supply constraints’. 

The company currently has one spacecraft flying and has announced plans to build as many as five more in the coming years, with two currently under construction at their Mojave operational centre. 

Each spacecraft can carry up to six passengers on a flight to the edge of space, in addition to the two pilots that fly it. 

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

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)

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

Source: Read Full Article