MOJAVE, Calif. — With a first flight to the edge of space under the company’s belt, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson believes commercial flights of SpaceShipTwo could begin some time next year.
An exuberant Branson took the stage at the Mojave Air and Space Port here to congratulate the company and its employees for a successful test flight Dec. 13 of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle named VSS Unity, which reached a peak altitude of 82.7 kilometers. The flight was the first by the vehicle to cross the boundary of 50 miles, or approximately 80 kilometers, that U.S. government agencies use to award astronaut wings.
“How on Earth do I describe the feeling?” he said on stage, referring to his emotions from watching the successful test flight. “Joy? Definitely. Relief? Emphatically. Exhiliaration? Absolutely.”
Virgin Galactic’s suborbital space plane VSS Unity just soared to new heights, and you can go along for the ride, thanks to a new video.
Unity aced its third-ever rocket-powered test flight yesterday (July 26), reaching a maximum altitude of 170,800 feet (52,060 meters) and a top speed of Mach 2.47. (Mach 1 is the speed of sound, about 767 mph, or 1,235 km/h, at sea level.)
Neither Unity nor its predecessor, VSS Enterprise, had ever gone so high before, Virgin Galactic representatives said. [Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity Spaceliner in Pictures]
Firing rockets from beneath the wings of an airborne 747 isn’t the most conventional way to get satellites into space, but it might be among the most cost-effective. Virgin spinoff company Virgin Orbit has been awarded a license for its maiden attempt to do just that, with hopes of beginning commercial services before the year is out.
Where Virgin Galactic hopes to give rise to space tourism by carrying well-heeled thrill-seekers to suborbital altitudes inside supersonic spaceplanes, Virgin Orbit will instead focus in launching small satellites.
This starts with its Cosmic Girl mothership, a Boeing 747-400 carrier aircraft that would fly to an altitude of around 35,000 ft (10,700 m) with a so-called LauncherOne in tow. This is a two-stage expendable rocket that, after being released at just the right time, fires up its main stage 73,500-lb (33,339-kg) engine for around three minutes.