After an unsuccessful attempt to reach space last December, today, Virgin Galactic reached space from Spaceport America earlier today with Pilots CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay aboard VSS Unity.
Virgin Galactic’s White Knight Two aircraft VMS Eve carried the VSS Unity to nearly 50 thousand feet before releasing the spacecraft. The pilots ignited the rocket motor which propelled the spacecraft to an apogee of 89.2km. VSS Unity touched back down at Spaceport America just 11 minutes later.
This is Virgin Galactic’s third crewed flight with VSS Unity, but the first since they have moved locations to Spaceport America in New Mexico. The flight carried experiments for NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. These experiments include electronics field measurement devices for the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. These measurements provide information on what the environment is like inside of spacecraft, while future versions may be able to test external conditions as well.
Another one of the experiments onboard is the COLLIDE experiment from the University of Central Florida. This experiment is designed to understand dust a particle interaction as it relates to humans in space. These tests have previously been performed on Spaceship Two, New Shepard, and even the Space Shuttle.
Many have criticized the relatively low altitude and suborbital nature of these flights, (the flights do not quite reach the Karman Line, though they do meet the U.S. definition of space). Despite these criticisms, even suborbital spaceflight is still valuable both scientifically and commercially with space tourism expected to become a nearly 8 billion dollar industry by 2030. Having a flight that is able to land on a runway, rather than parachuting down and needing to be retrieved, is a far more elegant way to end what will be a surprisingly low-cost flight to space.
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