Most of us would love to be able to explore the far reaching corners of space, and shed some light on the mysteries of the universe. This dream of jumping into a space taxi and taking a trip to the moon is shared by Virgin Galactic, which has put together a team of rocket scientists, engineers and designers in order to ensure the possibility of this happening in the near future. The company believes that everybody should have the opportunity to explore space, and have set out to make this happen.
Founded in 2004, Virgin Galactic has had several setbacks during testing; including one which resulted in the unfortunate death of a test pilot. Recently they have made a giant leap forward in their research, however, with a successful solo glide test of their second VSS Unity. Designed to be the first private airline into the vast unknown, the vessel was launched along with its carrier aircraft White Knight Two from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. VSS Unity was piloted by Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay, who were flying light and slow. After separating from the carrier the aircraft was able to glide back to the runway from an altitude of 50,000 feet, reaching a maximum speed of Mach 0.6 during the descent.
The vessel’s performance went extremely well and researchers are pleased with the results. The company’s representatives have stated that this is only the first of many glide flights from which they intend to collect and analyse data, in order to determine how the VSS Unity will be able to perform in a variety of real-world flight conditions. After an extensive amount of observation and calculation, Virgin Galactic plan to move on to the rocket powered phase of their test flight program.
An outspoken supporter of the work being done by Virgin Galactic, Stephen Hawking had planned to be one of its first passengers before his death. While safety is always the most important part of any program which needs to be taken into consideration, the company does have to move quickly if it is going to become the first to privatize space travel as there are several others that have similar missions. These include: Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which aims at making life multi-planetary, Blue Origin, which plans to be able to have humanity at the edge of space in as little as a year from now, and Bigelow Aerospace that is already drafting their design for a commercial space station. The race into space has certainly taken on a new meaning, and we all look forward to experiencing the results.