First Rocket-Powered Flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

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First rocket-powered flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) on April 29, 2013. Image by Jeff Foust

Private Space Flight: A Ticket to Ride

Virgin Galactic plans to offer intrepid (and wealthy) civilians the chance to ride SS2 in the near future, to see the Earth from the blackness of space, to feel weightless just like astronauts do. As Einstein pointed out, weightlessness feels like you are in free-fall. It’s like you are constantly falling in a steep roller coaster drop. Feeling nauseous, anybody?

Still want to go? For the small price of $200,000 you can have your wish. But you better hurry. Some 560 tickets have been sold to date. And Virgin Galactic says after the first 600 tickets are sold, the price goes up to $250,000 for the next 400. Branson says he hopes to lower prices in the future.

Commercial flights on the six-seat SS2 will take off from the newly constructed SpacePort America outside Las Cruces, New Mexico — the world’s first space port specifically designed for commercial operations.  Branson plans to be on the first flight along with his two children, if, as he says, his wife lets him.

Space Tourists in 2013?

Virgin Galactic hopes to begin space tourist flights as early as the end of this year, but slipped schedules are notorious in this business. This week’s SS2 powered flight is some five years behind its originally-scheduled date — not a surprise given the challenge and complexity of such a project. So you may have to wait a bit longer for a ride to space. After all, as Branson says, it is rocket science.

The WK2 and SS2 were built by Mohave-based Scaled Composites, L. L. C. The hybrid rocket engines were built by Sierra Nevada Corporation. Per the Mojave Press Release, “Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline is owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS.”

Resources:

Mojave Press Release. Virgin Galactic Breaks Speed of Sound in First Rocket-powered Flight of SpaceShipTwo. (2013). Accessed May 1, 2013.

Kenneth Chang. Privately Financed Spaceship Roars Closer to Space. (2013). NYTimes. Accessed May 1, 2013.

Andy Pasztor. Spacecraft Clears Test Flight. (2013). Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2013. Accessed May 1, 2013.

Clara Moskowitz. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Makes History with 1st Rocket-powered Flight. (2013). FOX News. Accessed May 1, 2013.

Leonard David. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Rocket Test Heralds Rise of Passenger Space Travel. (2013. Space.com. Accessed May 1, 2013.

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