Runway to Runway Space Flight

Today, Virgin Galactic flew a space plane from runway to space to runway for the third time, establishing Space Port America as an official spaceport and New Mexico as a new U.S. space launch site.

I don’t care if it is suborbital. Spaceflight is hard. Reusable spaceflight is even harder. Building and flying space planes is hard. Flying to space from a runway is hard. To do these things with a new design that can carry passengers represents a significant stretch of the human spaceflight envelope.

It’s been a rough ride to space for Sir Richard Branson and his company Virgin Galactic to get this far. After their famous first two flights in smaller spacecraft, they built a new and larger ship to begin running space tourism flights, but had a tragic accident in 2014 during a test flight in which the copilot pilot was killed when he accidentally put the wings into atmospheric reentry configuration while the craft was accelerating. The spacecraft broke up and crashed in the Mojave Desert. Since then they had to build a whole new space plane, and the public trust, from scratch.

Today, they vindicated the upgraded and safer design. After takeoff from Spaceport America, and release from its mothership, the VMS Eve, the VMS Unity accelerating to Mach 3 and climbed to 89.2 km above sea level, 9.2 km above the altitude recognized by NASA and the U.S. Airforce as the edge of space. Then it safely reentered the atmosphere and landed back on the runway where it started.

At near the Karman line, the curvature of the Earth horizon can be clearly seen and the craft even carried some Flight Opportunities Program experiments from NASA.

Not much more to say about it except that they learned more, got closer to their FAA Commercial Spacecraft license, and will soon be able to begin making ordinary folks into astronauts in 2022.

~ by Bill Housley on May 22, 2021.

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