Sci-tech

Virgin Galactic to roll out new space tourism rocket plane

Virgin Galactic to roll out new space tourism rocket plane

Airline mogul and "Rebel Billionaire" star Sir Richard Branson's dream of bringing outer space to commercial flying continued with today's reveal of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two aircraft at a hangar in the Mojave Desert. Virgin Galactic's space flight experience features an air launch after being released from the carrier ship, WhiteKnightTwo, followed by a rocket-powered ascent at three and a half times the speed of sound to 100 kilometers above the Earth where several minutes of out-of-seat weightlessness can be experienced by the passengers. The loss of its spacecraft was a major setback and the firm is going to be very careful in testing to make sure there isn't another loss. The new SpaceShipTwo was given the name VSS Unity by famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

Sir Richard told Good Morning Britain that Virgin Galactic is "hopefully almost at the end of a 10-year programme". Co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed, while pilot Peter Siebold survived.

A new version of the SpaceShipTwo will be rolling out Friday, taking Virgin Galactic a step further into making space tourism a reality.

Branson's Virgin Galactic is not the only company interested in sending paying passengers to space.

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Of course, this safety system needs extensive testing on its own, but Virgin Galactic says that it's being used in flight simulators now and will be installed on SpaceShip Two when it's ready. Virgin did also point out that because the updated SpaceShipTwo is so close in design to the original, its previous 55 flights (and lone, fatal crash) still represent a trove of useful data moving forward. Aside from merely showing off its latest spaceship model, Virgin must accomplish the incredibly hard task of convincing its investors, partners, and customers - you know, the people who will one day trust it to take them to space.

The first SpaceShipTwo broke apart during a test flight on October 31, 2014. The accident was blamed on pilot error and oversights by Northrop Gumman Corp's Scaled Composites division, which designed, built and tested the first vehicle, known as SpaceShipTwo.

"Once that is done, we'll be eager to get air under the wings of our new spaceship", it adds. Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is also trying to do the same with its New Shepard space system, and XCOR Aerospace is also working to develop a space plane to fly private tourists to suborbital space and back.

Virgin isn't the only company investing big in space-travel, and not everyone trying to get to space is on the same mission.


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