Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo reaches space for first time, and the view is spectacular

Dec 18, 2018

Aerospace technology took another leap toward commercial space flights as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, reached space for the first time Thursday morning.

After months of testing, the rocket-powered spacecraft successfully met their goal to push past the 50-mile envelop for altitude. The ship motor-burned its rockets for a full minute in order to allow both pilots and payload to experience micro-gravity for an extended period of time.

Courtesy of Virgin Galactic
Courtesy of Virgin Galactic

Not to mention that the view from space was spectacular.

The winged spacecraft separated from twin-fuselage carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo, which is designed to lift SpaceShipTwo up to altitude for separation, before accelerating into space and returning to Earth.

The space flight was a valuable opportunity to verify the craft, but also to test and demonstrate technologies and experiments under micro-gravity conditions.

Sponsored by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, which contracted Virgin Galactic for space flight services, four experiments “hitched” a ride in order to test the effects of micro-gravity on “dust dynamics,” plant growth, and the interactions between gasses and liquids, and demonstrate new technologies to dampen the effects of vibration on payloads.

The payload weight also allowed Virgin Galactic to “partly” meet their objective to simulate ferry passengers traveling to space.

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All of the data will help to mature research toward future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. But the SpaceShipTwo flight also helps establish a precedent for the growing sub-orbital space industry, already bustling with several developers (such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX).

“The anticipated addition of SpaceShipTwo to a growing list of commercial vehicles supporting suborbital research is exciting,” said Ryan Dibley, from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. “Inexpensive access to suborbital space greatly benefits the technology research and broader spaceflight communities.”

As far as embarking on passenger flights and building “space hotels” is concerned, that likely won’t be for a while (though it may be on the horizon). Virgin Galactic stated that they would like to develop “safely” as opposed to “quickly” through incremental flight testing.

“None of this though, takes away the excitement, anticipation and great pride of being at the vanguard of a new space age and of history in the making,” Virgin Galactic added.

Meanwhile, billionaire and founder of Virgin Group Richard Branson has spoken of hitching a ride into space himself in a few months.