On June 29, 2023, Virgin Galactic began commercial suborbital flights. Here we tell you the basic facts about what it is, what exactly they offer and how it all works.
1. What is Virgin Galactic?
Virgin Galactic was founded back in 2004 by British billionaire Richard Branson and engineer Burt Rutan after the SpaceShipOne spacecraft they built became the first private space plane to overcome the conditional boundary beyond which space began.
From the very beginning, the main goal of the company was regular tourist suborbital flights. Branson started selling tickets back in 2007. However, time passed, and the first commercial flight was postponed several times. It took place only in July 2021. But then another technical problem arose, and tourist flights started only in June 2023.
2. What is suborbital flight?
A suborbital flight is a flight in which the spacecraft rises above the conventional boundary of space, which is usually carried out at an altitude of 100 km above sea level, but does not enter orbit around the Earth. At the same time, weightlessness occurs inside it for a while.
It is much easier to make a suborbital flight than to enter orbit. After all, for this you do not need to gain speed, which is called the first space. In fact, this is a flight along a ballistic trajectory that lasts only a few tens of minutes.
3. What is the SpaceShipTwo space plane?
SpaceShipTwo is a space plane, that is, a spacecraft capable of flying like an airplane and staying in space for a certain time. Its development began in the mid-2000s. Its first sample was called VSS Enterprise. However, in 2011, it crashed during a test flight. Two pilots were dead.
After that, Virgin Galactic began construction of a similar spacecraft called VSS Unity. It is now used for tourist flights. The difference with the previous version is only in the use of a new type of fuel for the on-board engine.
4. How does suborbital flight occur?
The space plane is lifted into the air by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, which takes off from the Mojave Cosmodrome in New Mexico. At an altitude of about 20 km, their separation occurs, and VSS Unity turns on its own jet engine, with which it delivers two pilots and up to six passengers into space.
The maximum flight altitude can be up to 140 km. This provides people inside with a few minutes of weightlessness. After that, the spacecraft descends and makes an aerodynamic flight in the atmosphere, which ends with landing at the airfield.
5. How fast is it possible to get into space?
Anyone can buy a ticket for a Virgin Galactic tourist space plane now. It costs 450 thousand dollars, which is much cheaper than a commercial flight to the ISS. In addition, Virgin Galactic customers do not need to undergo special training.
The only problem is that now VSS Unity will make one flight per month, during which only 6 passengers will travel outside the atmosphere. And Virgin Galactic has accumulated several hundred customers over the years of ticket sales, and they are all waiting for their turn. The company promises that new space planes should appear in the future, which will allow organizing commercial flights more often. However, their test will take place no earlier than 2025-2026.
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