January 19, 2019

Newsday, Virgin Galactic rockets to the edge of space

18 December 2018, 07:57 | Ross Houston

News Virgin Galactic reaches space in rocket-powered plane eyes space tourism in 2019

News					Virgin Galactic reaches space in rocket-powered plane eyes space tourism in 2019

Virgin Galactic reached the edge of space for the first time in an historic test flight which could move the dream of space tourism closer to a reality.

Branson, wearing a leather bomber jacket with a fur collar, attended the take-off along with hundreds of spectators on a crisp morning in the California desert. It reached this altitude-much greater than its previous record of 52 kilometers (32 miles)-by burning the rocket motor for 60 seconds, longer than it ever has in flight before. After a 60-second engine burn speeds the craft to almost three times the speed of sound, it continues its ascent, coasting until it reaches maximum altitude.

Branson has said he wants to be one of the first on board.

Kansas native Mark Stucky helped fly Virgin Galactic's supersonic plane into space on Thursday.

Virgin Galactic says its tourism spaceship has climbed more than 80 kilometres high, which the company considers the boundary of space.

The billionaire said he aimed for a commercial space flight with passengers, including himself, as early as March next year.

Carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo released SpaceShipTwo shortly after reaching an altitude of 43,000 feet. Using a system similar to NASA's Pegasus rocket, a small rocket complete with payload will launch from a modified Boeing 747-400 airliner, the combo being called LauncherOne and Cosmic Girl, respectively.

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Richard Branson is not alone in the space tourism business. "We've had tears, real tears, and we've had moments of joy". A 90-minute flight costs $250,000.

The Kármán line, at 100km, has commonly been regarded as where space starts, but Virgin Galactic will point to discussions within the scientific community about revising this figure downwards to 80km.

Richard Branson, seen an in October 2018 photo, originally envisioned a fleet carrying paying passengers to space by 2007. Tickets will be offered ahead of the first commercial launch, and test flights with Blue Origin employees are expected to begin in 2019.

That day can not come soon enough for Mercury 13 candidate Wally Funk, who booked her flight on Branson's dream machine back in 2012 and at 79 might finally get a chance to go to space. Once released from its mothership, SpaceShipTwo activated its rocket motor and soared to an altitude of about 50 miles above the Earth's surface.

At 51.4 miles high, VSS Unity reached the technical definition of space, earning its pilots commercial astronaut wings by the US Federal Aviation Administration, although the usual worldwide standard is the 62-mile "Karman line".

Other firms planning a variety of passenger spacecraft include Boeing Co, Elon Musk's SpaceX and late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Stratolaunch.

The 68-year-old had been emotional throughout the flight, shedding many tears and hugging his son Sam as it eventually made its way to space altitudes. On top of its history-making flight it also carried four NASA-funded technology experiments on board.

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