Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Virgin Galactic is on track to send tourists into space next year: VSS Unity spaceplane completes a successful glide test nearly 3 years after the f irm’s deadly crash

Virgin Galactic has completed another successful glide test fl ight of its VSS Unity (pictured) spaceplane, the company’s second version of SpaceShipTwo. 

• Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceplane performed a test fl ight in California
• The plane dumped water to simulate the shift in weight when fuel is used
• The test marks a key step toward the firm sending tourists into space in 2018
• Tragedy struck the project in 2014 when a catastrophic test fl ight crash killed one pilot and injured another

Virgin Galactic has completed another successful glide test flight of its VSS Unity spaceplane, the company's second version of Space-ShipTwo.

The test, which comes almost three years since Virgin Galactic's catastrophic crash, marks a key step towards the firm's goal of sending tourists into space next year.

So far, more than 700 potential customers - including celebrities Brad Pitt, Katy Perry and Ashton Kutcher - have reserved a spot on one of the suborbital trips at a cost of $-250,000 (£-200,000) each.

Founded in 2010 with the aim of taking paying customers to space and back again, tragedy struck the project in 2014 when a catastrophic SpaceShipTwo test flight crash killed one pilot and injured another.

It took two years for the company to regain approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly SpaceShipTwo again.

The latest test saw VSS Unity sent up from California's Mojave Air and Space Port attached to a twin-fuselage White Knight carrier airplane.

Once the two crafts had reached 50,000ft (15,000m), Unity was released for an unpowered descent back to the space port.

The test saw the first time Unity's Main Oxidiser Tank was filled with nitrous oxide.

The spaceplane is designed to enter space via suborbital rocket flight, and if further tests go to plan could begin commercial flights as early as next year.

‘‘Our major first today though was that with the exception of the rocket motor fuel grain, called the CTN (Case-Throat-Nozzle), we flew with all the spaceship's principle propulsion components on-board and live,' the company said in a blog post describing the test.”

During the flight, as with previous tests, Unity dumped 450 litres of water, simulating the shift in weight that would normally be caused by rocket fuel.

Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic will initiate its flights without using a traditional rocket launch.

Instead, the firm will launch VSS Unity and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed VMS Eve.

‘‘Within seconds,' Virgin Galactic claims, 'the rocket motor will be engaged' and Unity will fl y approximately three and a half times the speed of sound into suborbital space.”

‘‘We are really pleased with what we saw today,' said Virgin chief pilot David Mackay.” ‘‘We collected hundreds of gigabytes of data for us to review, and from the pilots' point of view, it felt really wonderful.”

'All of you here at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company should be very proud: VSS Unity is a great spaceship!' 

In April, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic announced plans to launch tourists into space in 2018, with the first test fl ights beginning this year.

The Virgin Galactic boss said he would be 'very disappointed' not to go into space himself in 2018 and hopes his space tourism programme will be up and running in the same year.

And based on the latest test flight, the fi rm is on track to reachthis target.

'Lots of data to examine now, but a great day’s work and an important step towards powered fl ights,' the company wrote in its latest blog post.

'Congratulations to our pilots, the propulsion team, ground crew, mission control, and of course to Eve and Unity!' 


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