Virgin Galactic Rocket Plane Soars to Edge of Space


That height clears the 50-mile threshold that is sometimes considered the boundary of space. It was an indescribable feeling: "joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come". Most recently, Richard Branson, the 68-year-old billionaire who founded Virgin Galactic, claimed that the company would reach space before Christmas. It has also earned the plane's pilots, Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow, commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration.

That day can not come soon enough for Mercury 13 candidate Wally Funk, who booked her flight on Branson's dream machine back in 2012 and at 79 might finally get a chance to go to space. "Ideally, we want to do three more flights before we go to New Mexico". This push helped the vehicle to reach a "space altitude" of 50 miles (about 80 km). That's where Earth's upper atmosphere ends, and it's about 62 miles, or 100 km, high. "At this altitude, a conventional plane would need to reach orbital velocity or risk falling back to Earth".

Then, in 2014, SpaceShipTwo broke apart during a test flight by Scaled Composites when the co-pilot prematurely unlocked the "feathering" system and it began to deploy. An investigation found that human error - the braking system was triggered too early - and inadequate safety measures were to blame. The believed that the ship should have had better safeguards to protect against such mistakes.

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SpaceShipTwo, named the VSS Unity, hitched a ride on Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo aircraft before separating and taking off under its own power. That said, the lower altitude of VSS Unity also provides an opportunity for research, serving the dual-purpose of science and recreation. Blue Origin will use the more traditional method of spacecraft attached to a rocket launched from the ground. The rocket is shut down and the craft coasts to the top of its climb - and then begins a descent slowed and stabilized by unique "feathering" technology. It was the first spacecraft with humans aboard to be launched from USA soil and reach space since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, and it marked a milestone for the commercial space industry, which also includes companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, and Boeing.

"If we have a very good day, we could potentially have the first space flight into space of Virgin Galactic, so that would be a big milestone from our personal company and then on a national level, I think this would be the first human spaceflight from American soil into space since the retirement of the USA space shuttle", stated George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic. They have been waiting years to feel the kick of the rocket's ignition, a near-vertical high-speed ascent into the blackness of space and several minutes of weightlessness with a view of the Earth far below.