Virgin Galactic launches third suborbital

Virgin Galactic launches third suborbital

Virgin Galactic launched its fourth suborbital space flight in as many months on Friday, sending two company pilots, an astronaut trainer and three space tourists to the edge of space and back.

Carried aloft by Virgin’s twin-fuselage carrier jet, the VSS Unity spaceplane was released at an altitude of about 45,000 feet above the New Mexico desert west of the White Sands Missile Range.

Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceplane climbed to an altitude of 55 miles during the company’s third fully commercial flight to the edge of space, giving a crew of six, including three “space tourists,” about three minutes of gravity and out of view of the world.

Galactic Maiden

A second later, the spacecraft’s hybrid jet burst into a burst of flame, propelling the futuristic ship into a near-vertical trajectory as it sped up to three times the speed of sound.

The motor shut down about one minute later as planned, kicking off about three minutes of weightlessness as the spacecraft climbed to a maximum altitude of 55 miles before turning back to Earth.

At the controls were Unity commander Nicola Pecile and pilot Michael Masucci, both veterans of former Unity aircraft. Astronaut trainer Beth Moses, making her fifth flight, joined three paying passengers in the Union cabin: Las Vegan entrepreneur Ken Baxter, Timothy Nash and race car builder Adrian Reynard, both British nationals.

Baxter’s website said he bought his first ticket to fly on a Virgin airline in 2004. His staff was close behind.

“Nearly 20 years have passed since that day in October 2004 when I watched an episode of ’60 Minutes’ where Sir Richard Branson at Virgin Atlantic shared his vision to make the miracle of space travel available to the average Joe,” Baxter wrote.

“As Sir Richard shared his vision, my childhood fascination with spaceships and rockets was suddenly rekindled. The opportunity to realize my lifelong desire to experience the amazing view from space was something I couldn’t resist. … My chance had finally come.”

During about three minutes of weightlessness, the six-member Unity spacecraft crew, including three men who bought their tickets 20 years ago, hovered around the cabin.

Galactic Maiden

In short video clip posted to Virgin’s X feed showed Baxter and company floating about in a cabin near the surface of the trajectory, clearly excited by the experience of the weight and the view of the Earth below.

As it begins to descend, Unity’s two swept wings rotate upwards, or “feathered,” at the front, working as they were designed to orient the spacecraft, increasing atmospheric drag and reducing the “loads” acting on the spacecraft during re-entry.

Back in the lower atmosphere, the wings are rotated back down parallel to the fuselage and the pilots guide the spaceplane, now flying like a glider, to land on Spaceport America’s 12,000-foot-long runway.

It was the eighth Unity flight flown above an altitude of 50 miles – the arbitrary “limit” of space accepted by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration – and Virgin’s third fully commercial flight in a row with paying customers.

I the first such flight launched on June 29, carrying three Italian Air Force researchers to the top of microgravity research. Second commercial launch carried three astronauts on August 10 as they made Friday’s flight. In total, Virgin Galactic has launched 37 corporate and commercial passengers on eight Unity flights to date.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which launched six sub-orbital flights with 32 passengers using the new New Shepard rocket and capsule, is currently on stand-down while. to solve the problem of the booster which occurred during an untested microgravity research flight last September.

Virgin Galactic’s next flight is scheduled for October. Blue Origin has not yet announced when it plans to resume flights.

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