Virgin Galactic just unveiled their brand new line of spacesuits, but you may notice they don’t look like the ones we’re typically used to. That’s because Virgin Galactic wants its passengers to be super comfortable and flexible during their suborbital flights. For years, the company has been known as the trailblazer for space tourism and they’re not alone in their desire to commercialize space for the average individual.Virgin Galactic Space tourism.
We’re in the middle of what some call the “next-generation space race” with private companies like SpaceX, Boeing, and Blue Origin developing innovative commercial rockets for human spaceflight. But Virgin Galactic remains an ambitious contender by promising to send anyone, not just astronauts, to space.
And these journeys could start as early as 2020. Pledges like this have been happening for the last fifteen years. Back in 2004, SpaceShipOne became the very first privately crewed spacecraft to take flight. This historical venture helped set the foundation for the aerospace company Virgin Galactic, and the spacecraft design isn’t too far off from what you’re used to with commercial aircraft.
Virgin Galactic Spaceship
Virgin Galactic uses two separate operational vehicles attached together with what the company calls their reusable SpaceShipTwo spaceflight system; this consists of one, all carbon-composite aircraft carrier, WhiteKnightTwo–and one passenger spaceplane SpaceShipTwo. If you’re short on breath, however, the vehicles are also called the VMS Eve, and VSS Unity, both of which are improved iterations of the 2004 debut. The final assembly is a three cabin, aerial behemoth that works a little like this. VMS Eve is a four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft with a wingspan of forty-three meters, making it one of the largest of its kind. The catamaran design allows for easy access to uniquely heavy payloads, which in this case, is another spaceship. VSS Unity is attached in the middle of the two cabins and moves forward with take-off just like any commercial airline. The craft is raised to about 15,000 meters into the air. From here, the spacecraft detaches and VSS Unity shows off its hybrid rocket motor bringing the spaceship above the atmosphere at speeds three and a half times the speed of sound.
Passengers Experience in Space
At apogee, or the highest point of ascension, the motor turns off and the VSS Unity just…. coasts. This is the point where passengers onboard would experience about four to five minutes of microgravity before the spacecraft turns itself into a feathered position. And this is what makes Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft so special. Similar to the physics you see in a descending badminton shuttlecock, the VSS Unity steers its nose downward, letting gravity pull the craft back to Earth’s surface. The “feathered” position, or the rotation upwards of the twin tail booms, produces enough drag to slow the plane through the upper parts of the Earth’s atmosphere to end in a gentle, and gliding touchdown. Sound too good to be true?
Virgin Galactic Tragic Setbacks
Well, it’s no secret that Virgin Galactic has had some tragic setbacks including a ground explosion in 2007 and a fatal crash in 2014. After going back to the drawing board and conducting years of test runs, Virgin Galactic accomplished its first successful crewed flight in December 2018. And another in February 2019 where the three crew members and NASA scientific payloads reached an altitude of about 89 kilometers above sea level. However, this height is still up for debate on if it’s considered “space”, since it’s above the Federal Aviation Administration’s definition of where space begins, but lower than the widely accepted boundary called the Kármán Line.
Virgin Galactic Promises to Make Everyone To Go to space – New Era of Space Tourism
Regardless though, Virgin Galactic promises a view like you’ve never seen before and while it may seem like an unforgettable experience, the company certainly doesn’t want you to think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime one. Since the beginning, one of Virgin Galactic’s primary goals was to make space more accessible. And amidst building a spaceport in New Mexico, unveiling spacesuits, announcing crewed research flights, and receiving investments from Boeing, their goal of making this accessible isn’t too far away. Though, right now, this ride is only reserved for those who can afford it. The price tag for a single ticket is roughly two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. But Virgin Galactic continues testing their vessels and making improvements with safety, altitude and weight capacity. There are over 600 anxious individuals who’ve already bought tickets for their space journey and it’s only a matter of time before we see Virgin Galactic’s dreams come to fruition. If you liked this episode, make sure to subscribe and check out our Countdown to Launch playlist where you can catch up on your rocket launch news. Are there any other rocket launches you’d like us to cover? Let us know down in the comments. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time.