Space travel a step closer

February 26th, 2016, Published in Articles: EngineerIT


Recently the opportunity to take a trip into space became a lot closer when Richard Branson launched SpaceShipTwo  – the first vehicle to be manufactured by the Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s wholly-owned manufacturing arm, and the second vehicle of its design ever constructed.

SpaceShipTwo being towed out the construction hanger

SpaceShipTwo being towed out to the construction hanger.

Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline. Founded by Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic will transform access to space for the benefit of life on Earth. To date, 700 men and women from over 50 countries — greater than the total number of humans who have ever been to space — have reserved places to fly on Virgin Galactic’s reusable space launch system.

VSS Unity was unveiled in the Final Assembly Integration Test Hangar, the Mojave-based home of manufacturing and testing for Virgin Galactic’s human space flight programme. The new vehicle’s build process kicked off in 2012 with each component part undergoing rigorous testing before assembly. With VSS Unity now fully manufactured and unveiled, The Spaceship Company will undertake integrated systems verification, followed by ground and flight tests in Mojave and ground and air exercises at its future home in Spaceport America, New Mexico which is the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport. The Spaceship Company has already started work on the next SpaceShipTwo.

Based on the smaller 2004 X prize-winning Spaceship One designed by Burt Rutan, SpaceShipTwo is designed to take a crew of two pilots and up to six passengers to space. Virgin Galactic’s space flight experience features an air launch followed by a rocket-powered ascent at three and a half times the speed of sound, the silence of space, several minutes of out-of-seat weightlessness and multiple windowed views of our home planet.

On 31 October 2014, the space tourism company Virgin Galactic suffered a serious accident during a SpaceShipTwo test flight, resulting in the loss of the spacecraft. One pilot died in the crash, while another suffered injuries.

Launching SpaceShip Two, typical Branson style!

Launching SpaceShip Two, typical Branson style!

The business of space travel is not without its risks. On 31 October 2015, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spacecraft crashed in the desert of Mojave, California during a powered test flight that went tragically wrong. Again, one test pilot was killed and another injured in the crash. That was perhaps a wake-up call that to entice rich space tourists and researchers, safety is of the utmost importance. If it is to succeed in creating a successful commercial enterprise from space travel, the company can’t afford any more such setbacks.

Space exploration is increasingly opening beyond the confines of government agencies and into the private enterprise realm, with Amazon’s  Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk, and Microsoft’s Paul Allen each backing various programmes of their own. Yet in the competitive space race, it is crucial that corners aren’t cut for the sake of expediting progress — each safety blip not only risks human life, but it is also likely to set progress back years.

Virgin Galactic emphasised its rigorous testing procedures. “When we talk to our customers, partners, and supporters about our mission of opening space to all, they often express both a desire for the future to arrive quickly and also a profound sense of amazement that commercial space travel is finally something real, not just science fiction. Managing that transition from fiction to reality requires clever ideas, lots of hard work, and above all else, lots and lots of testing,” a spokesperson for the company said at the launch of SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic is also developing LauncherOne, an affordable dedicated ride to orbit for small satellites. As an air-launched rocket, LauncherOne is designed to provide commercial and government-built satellites a flexible launch service that meets each customer’s specific mission requirements. LauncherOne rockets are designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California, USA and launches will be conducted from various locations by its dedicated 747-400 carrier.

Will you be amongst the first to take a leap into space?

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