In a maneuver similar to the NASA Space Shuttle, Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spacecraft glides home to Spaceport America in New Mexico after the second supersonic flight.
(Image Source: Virgin Galactic)
By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower
This month a new “space race” is being run by two billionaires, Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos. First-up: Richard Branson will fly to a brief encounter with Outer Space, perhaps as early as Sunday. Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's company, promises to Live-Stream the flight.
Internet link to the Virgin Galactic Live-Stream is near the end of this blog-post.
The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two-class, VSS (Virgin Space Ship) Unity 22 mission is set to begin at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time (EDT) / 7:00 a.m. Mountain Daylight Saving Time (MDT) (the New Mexico launch site is in the Mountain Time Zone) / 13:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on Sunday, 2021 July 11, weather-permitting and provided there are no technical problems. Although no precise launch time has been provided, the time given is when the Live-Stream begins, and the launch should occur shortly thereafter.
A Virgin Galactic launch is quite different from most space launches; it is, what is called, a “drop-launch”. The space-plane VSS Unity is dropped from the mother-ship aircraft, WhiteKnight Two-class VMS (Virgin Mother-Ship) Eve (name of Richard Branson's mother), once the mother-ship reaches a launch altitude of 44,000 feet.
This drop-launch maneuver is similar to the launch of the X-15 experimental rocket-plane, which was tested by the U.S. Air Force and NASA in the 1950s and 1960s. In the case of the X-15, manufactured by North American Aviation and Reaction Motors, the rocket-plane was drop-launched from a B-52 Bomber.
Once dropped from the mother-ship, the VSS Unity space-plane, which has wings similar to the NASA Space Shuttle, fires a rocket engine to fly to an altitude of 50 statute miles / 80 kilometers above mean sea level. The U.S. Air Force, NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) consider this the altitude dividing line between Earth's atmosphere and Outer Space. Although an international aeronautic standards and record-keeping body, Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), considers the altitude dividing line, what is called the Karman Line, to be at 62 statute miles / 100 kilometers above mean sea level.
In addition to Richard Branson the Virgin Galactic Founder, who will be a Mission Specialist on this flight, the VSS Unity 22 crew will consist of pilots Dave MacKay and Michael Masucci and mission specialists Beth Moses (Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Instructor), Colin Bennett (Virgin Galactic Lead Operations Engineer), and Sirisha Bandia (Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic). Although there have been four earlier test flights including a small crew, the July 11 mission will be the first with the full crew complement of six.
For this mission, the pilots of the VMS Eve mother-ship will be C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer.
This mission will be a short sub-orbital flight, which will last only a few minutes. At the conclusion of the mission, the VSS Unity space-plane will glide back to home-base (similar to the NASA Space Shuttle) at Spaceport America, located in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin 45 miles north of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Richard Branson hopes the success of the July 11 mission will lead to future launches with paying space tourists. Such space tourists would spend a few minutes in micro-gravity (a.k.a. “weightless-ness”) and observe the curvature of the Earth from the edge of Outer Space.
In a public relations statement, Richard Branson said: “I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good. It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality. As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”
Jeff Bezos, Founder of both Amazon and the Blue Origin space flight company, also hopes to fly paying passengers on sub-orbital flights of his New Shepard rocket launch vehicle. Jeff Bezos is scheduled to fly on this spacecraft, also on a short sub-orbital flight to the edge of Outer Space, on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the first landing of astronauts on the Moon. The New Shepard rocket is expected to go as far as the Karman Line, a little higher than the VSS Unity will reach.
Richard Branson scheduled his flight nine days earlier than the Jeff Bezos flight, to “win” this “space race”.
Virgin Galactic VSS Unity 22 Mission LIVE-STREAM:
Link >>> http://virgingalactic.com/
Internet Links to Additional Information ---
VSS Unity 22 Mission:
Link 1 >>> https://www.virgingalactic.com/articles/virgin-galactic-announces-first-fully-crewed-spaceflight/ VSS
Link 2 >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Galactic_Unity_22
VSS Unity Space-Plane: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VSS_Unity
WhiteKnight 2 Mother-Ship Aircraft: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scaled_Composites_White_Knight_Two
Link 1 >>> http://virgingalactic.com/
Link 2 >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Galactic
Karman Line: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%A1rm%C3%A1n_line
Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower,
a project of Friends
of the Zeiss.
Friday, 2021 July 9.
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Formerly Astronomical Observatory Coordinator & Planetarium Lecturer, original Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center), Pittsburgh's science & technology museum from 1939 to 1991.
Formerly Trustee, Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
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