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article imageVirgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo makes its public debut

By Robert Myles     Feb 22, 2016 in Science
Mojave - Virgin Galactic the world’s first commercial spaceline, part owned by the Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS, unveiled its recently completed SpaceShipTwo, Feb.19.
The latest spaceship to roll of the company’s production facility at Mojave, CA was introduced by Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson while Professor Stephen Hawking, via a recorded speech, named the new vehicle, intended to propel the world’s first paying space tourists on a sub-orbital flight, the Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity.
Greeting the latest addition to Virgin Galactic’s embryonic space-fleet, Professor Hawking said, “I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship.”
Also attending the ceremony were Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, who stressed the importance of space to science and technical education, as well as four generations of Sir Richard Branson’s family: his mother Eve, Sir Richard himself, his son Sam, and his grandchild Eva Deia.
Eva, who was celebrating her first birthday, will have a day to treasure for it fell to Eva to “launch” the spaceship in the traditional way except that, given her age, champagne was replaced with milk.
Construction of VSS Unity started in 2012. Since then each vehicle component has undergone rigorous testing as the new spaceship took shape. The next development stage will involve integrated systems verification then ground and flight tests in Mojave followed by ground and air exercises at the VSS Unity’s intended operational base at Spaceport America, New Mexico.
Construction work is already underway on VSS Unity’s first sister SpaceShipTwo.
SpaceshipTwo’s configuration is the successor to the smaller 2004 X-PRIZE winning SpaceShipOne designed by Burt Rutan.
The VSS Unity’s lay-out is designed to take a crew of two pilots and up to six passengers into space. Flights will involve an air-launch of the space vehicle followed by a rocket-powered ascent at three and a half times the speed of sound to the cusp of orbital space. The initial flights will be sub-orbital, meaning that Virgin’s first space tourists will experience a flight similar to the first American in space Alan Shepard.
On May 5, 1961, spurred into action by the then Soviet Union having established a clear lead in the space race a month earlier when Yuri Gargarin entered Earth orbit, NASA and the U.S. managed to put together a spaceflight in double-quick time.
Shepard, in a Mercury spacecraft perched atop a Redstone rocket, first used as a missile by the U.S. Army, reached a height of 116 miles, then came back down without entering Earth orbit. His entire mission lasted just over 15 minutes.
Virgin’s first space tourists will experience a trip something similar to Alan Shepard’s first space flight, though in a somewhat more capacious space vehicle. As well as the silence of space, the first space day-trippers will be able to experience several minutes of out-of-seat weightlessness and take in a view of Mother Earth seen by only a privileged few since, to date, only around 550 humans have been in space.
But if all goes to plan, SpaceshipTwo’s flights will see that total more than double since Virgin Galactic report that, to date, 700 men and women from over 50 countries are booked to fly on the company’s reusable space launch system, consisting of carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo and spacecraft SpaceShipTwo.
Speaking at the VSS Unity’s public unveiling, Sir Richard Branson said, “Together, we can make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamt of before now, and by doing so can bring positive change to life on Earth.
“Our beautiful new spaceship, VSS Unity, is the embodiment of that goal and will provide us with an unprecedented body of experience which will in turn lay the foundations for Virgin Galactic’s future.
“Her creation is also great testament to what can be achieved when true teamwork, great skill and deep pride are combined with a common purpose.”
More about Virgin galactic, spaceshiptwo, Richard branson, Commercial space flights, Space tourism
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