The era of space tourism is drawing closer. Virgin Galactic, on its fifth supersonic, rocket- powered test flight, successfully sent passenger Beth Moses, the company's Chief Astronaut Instructor, to the edge of space, the first non-pilot to ever fly on a commercial aircraft. The flight marks the second time the company has reached the landmark height.
According to the standards set by the U.S. military and NASA, the crew of three becomes the 569th to 571st people to enter space, with Moses becoming the first woman to do so on a commercial spaceflight.
SpaceShipTwo's rocket motor burn from today's space flight ? pic.twitter.com/SC4hJSt33Z
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) February 22, 2019
The boundaries of space differ, depending on who's defining space. Virgin Galactic considers space to begin at a 50-mile (80.5-kilometer) altitude, the height at which NASA and the U.S military present astronaut wings. Other organizations, including the governing body astronautic records Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FIA), consider the 100-kilometer high Kármán Line, an imagined border, where space begins. Today's flight went 89.9 kilometers, or 55.8 miles, high.
Virgin Galactic's model of spaceflight is radically different than NASA, China, SpaceX, or Blue Origin. Today's SpaceShipTwo, named VSS Unity, is more like a spaceplane than a classic rocket. Launching from Mojave, California, a quadjet cargo aircraft named WhiteKnightTwo carried Unity some 50,000 feet into the sky before separation. Unity's rocket motor was then able to propel the craft at speeds faster than ever before, attaining Mach 3.04.
A view from Unity, which traveled to a point Virgin considers space. Virgin Galactic
The crew midflight. Virgin Galactic
The crew experienced several minutes of weightlessness as Moses performed a "live evaluation of cabin dynamics," which according to Virgin's press statement is "fundamental to the provision of a safe but enjoyable customer experience."
After landing, Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, speaking for Moses and co-pilot Michael “Sooch” Masucci, said in a press statement that the trio "just enjoyed a pretty amazing flight which was beyond anything any of us has ever experienced. It was thrilling yet smooth and nicely controlled throughout with a view at the top, of the Earth from space, which exceeded all our expectations. I am incredibly proud of my crew and of the amazing teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for providing a vehicle and an operation which means we can fly confidently and safely."
The company's CEO, Richard Branson, said that "having Beth fly in the cabin today, starting to ensure that our customer journey is as flawless as the spaceship itself, brings a huge sense of anticipation and excitement to all of us here who are looking forward to experiencing space for ourselves. The next few months promise to be the most thrilling yet."
And other companies are at Branson's heels. Blue Origin has begun construction of its new engine facility in Alabama while SpaceX has faced setbacks in testing its new Starship, but test flights are planned to begin later this year.
It's seems the era of commercial spaceflight is close at hand.
(Source: The Verge)