Virgin Galactics SpaceShipTwo reached the official boundary between sky and space this Thursday – setting an example for the private sector that they hope will spark interest in the new industry of space tourism. The company is the first one to actually bring people past the official border that designates “space” from the upper atmosphere.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s defines the area we call “space” to be exactly 50 miles (80 km) from ground level where Virgin Galactic flew their new spaceship past with two astronauts on board. Although the team did not reach orbit their milestone is a great achievement for the private sector, whose public programs have, up until recently, lagged behind official governmental organizations.
Virgin Galactics voyage to the edge of our atmosphere marks the first launch of a manned spacecraft from the United States since the Space Shuttle was decommissioned in 2011. It occurred shortly after sunrise. SpaceShipTwo was ferried to an altitude of 13 100 metres (43000 ft) by a larger support craft. The shuttle was then dropped from the support craft where it was suspended in freefall for a short duration before igniting the forward engines and blasting upward at speeds that eventually shatter the sound barrier at around mach 2.9.
Mark “Forger” Stucky and C.J. Sturckow, two seasoned pilots co-operated to direct SpaceShipTwo past the boundary at 51.4 miles before descending on the return trip back to Virgin Galactic space port in Mojave
“It’s been 14 long years to get here. We’ve had tears, real tears, and moments of joy. So the tears today were tears of joy,” he told reporters afterward
“It was maybe tears of relief as well. When you are in the test flight program of a space company you can never be completely 100 percent sure.”
“That was rather incredible,” he said. Seeing “the dark sky was great. Everything just worked great. …We had tons of extra propellant. Had plenty of time to look around.
The company eventually wants to fly tourists from Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic’s advanced launch facility in New Mexico. They’d like to build spaceports all around the world “and we’re operating multiple times a week at each one of those and enabling tens of thousands of people to experience space,” George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic’s chief executive, said in a recent interview.
Their plan is to create “future Hubs for a Network of Intercontinental Transportation Nodes” where, similar to Elon Musk, they want to use Low Earth Orbit for better global transportation as well. Unlike Space-X however their craft is a little more suited for integration with existing infrastructure – being able to fly “into major airports because we have a winged vehicle that can integrate smoothly in traffic patterns,” Whitesides said.
Those more ambitious goals are still “many years out,” he said. “But that’s the evolution – so that at the end of it you’ve built up, step-by-step, a capability to go between continents in an hour or two.”
The private sector is really growing in importance lately. A good sign being NASAs transition from a Russia based launch system to one that will employ several private American aerospace companies.