At long last, space tourism venture Virgin Galactic has sent a vehicle into space. Early Thursday morning, the company’s passenger spaceplane, the VSS Unity, ignited its rocket engine longer than ever before over the Mojave Desert, soaring above the 50-mile boundary that the Air Force defines as the beginning of space. This is the first time Virgin Galactic has crossed that line in its 14-year journey to give paying customers a taste of spaceflight. Virgin Galactic has been gearing up for this moment since it first debuted the VSS Unity in 2016. The company slowly progressed through the vehicle’s test flight program, first conducting unpowered glide flights with the spaceplane and then doing short powered flights by igniting VSS Unity’s rocket engine. Prior to today, the highest the vehicle had climbed was just over 32 miles (52 kilometers), but this morning, the plane flew to nearly 51 miles (82 kilometers), reaching a top seed of Mach 2.9, or 2.9 times the speed of sound. The company claims it may be able to go even higher. To get to today’s height, the vehicle ignited its onboard engine for a total of 60 seconds, but the hardware can supposedly burn for even longer than that. All of this extensive testing will help to certify that the VSS Unity is safe to carry passengers. Virgin Galactic’s ultimate goal is to use the spaceplane to send paying customers to the edge of space where they can experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Unlike other… [Read full story]
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