Virgin Galactic has taken one small step closer to space tourism after a successful test in which SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, remained airborne on the wing of its WhiteKnightTwo mothership, VMS Eve. Now, its creators can turn their attention to preparing it for a flight of its own.

A brief history of Virgin Galactic

Founded in 2004 by Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic originally targeted a maiden space flight at the end of 2009.

However, after a disastrous crash in 2014, which caused the death of one pilot and the serious injury of the other, the dream seemed destined never to become a reality.

In the subsequent two years, though, the Virgin Galactic team has continued to develop the craft. They were rewarded in August when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration gave them a new launch licence.

Preparations have progressed quickly since then, and now they’re almost ready to launch the VSS Unity.

Readying for launch

After the successful ‘captive carry’ flight attached to Eve, when the spaceship was taken to over 50,000 feet, the Virgin Galactic team have analysed ‘a mountain of flight data’ to assess the craft’s ability to cope at the edge of the atmosphere.

Next, comes a ‘glide’ test: the VSS Unity will be limited to Mach 0.6 during a flight that will evaluate the spaceship’s performance and handling.

After that the next stages are Rocket-powered Flight, Testing For The Unexpected and Astronaut Experience Testing (making sure all the fixtures and fittings work in the cockpit), before Final Preparations.

Tourism… in space!

Should everything go well, Virgin, already a familiar name to tourists, will become the first company to take commercial travellers into space.

Since Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, some 550 people have followed. Every single one of those has been a government-funded astronaut, cosmonaut or Chinese taikonaut.

Seven hundred people have already signed up for the Virgin Galactic programme, paying US$250,000 (originally US$200,000). These men and women come from 50 different countries and are aged from under 10 to over 90.

A meaningful impact

Virgin Galactic is confident that the experience of space travel will motivate the first generation of space tourists so much, that they will, in turn, inspire future generations to strive for the stars.

“In the near future, our astronauts will share their version of the Overview Effect with audiences who have never dreamed of hearing it and who will go on to be the innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs of tomorrow,” it says.

The ‘Overview Effect’, is what astronauts feel when they first view the world from space. Perhaps that moment when they suddenly appreciate the big picture – the unity of life – will inspire Virgin Galactic’s tourists to do more for mankind.

Sources

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7529978.stm

[2] http://www.space.com/30073-virgin-galactic-spaceshiptwo-crash-pilot-error.html

[3] http://spacenews.com/virgin-galactic-receives-faa-license-for-spaceshiptwo-tests/

[4] http://www.virgingalactic.com/update-from-mojave-vss-unitys-first-flight-test-completed/

[5] http://www.virgingalactic.com/update-from-mojave-the-next-phase-of-flight-test/

[6] http://www.virgingalactic.com/human-spaceflight/fly-with-us/

[7] http://www.virgingalactic.com/why-we-go/

[8] http://uk.businessinsider.com/overview-effect-nasa-apollo8-perspective-awareness-space-2015-8?r=US&IR=T

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