Space tourism


The company Virgin Galactic is working to be a space tourism company and has already people signed up to go into space. A few days ago it reached a milestone of sorts when it sent its plane on a 10-minute ride to an altitude to 21km. As a comparison, the International Space Station is at an orbital height of about 420km and the Hubble Space Telescope is at 559km, so it has a long way to go.

This was its third test flight. The plane is first carried by another plane to a height of 14km before it detaches and fires its own engines, as can be seen in the video from various angles

Of course, there is still a long way to go before the plane reaches space as we understand it. There is no actual boundary that marks off when you have reached space, though a common number that is used in 100km. Apparently NASA awards astronaut status to those who reach 80km.

I am not sure what exactly is the height that would qualify as space travel so that it would meet the promises made to the almost 600 people who have paid $80 million in deposits so far.

This place reached a height that is roughly twice that at which normal commercial airlines fly, which does not sound that impressive. Furthermore, according to a 2009 Smithsonian magazine, Alexandr Fedotov holds the world altitude record for a pure jet plane, set in 1977 when his MiG E-266M reached 38km. His plane had no rocket engines and started from the ground and was not carried up by other planes.

In 1962, Robert White reached a height of 96km. In 2004, Brian Binnie in a vehicle called SpaceShipOne reached an altitude of 112km. Both these were rocket-propelled planes that were first carried aloft by other planes, before blasting off on their own with rocket engines. just like the Virgin Galactic flight.

Given these earlier achievements, some of which were a half-century ago, I am not sure why the Virgin Galactic flight made such a big splash. But the video was nice.

Comments

  1. arno says

    My understanding is that Virgin Galactic is using a vehicle based upon SpaceShipOne, which is mainly scaled up in order to actually carry passengers. I guess making it bigger, and making it safer turned out to be quite a lot of work in the end (they had planned their first passenger flights for 2008 at some point, I seem to remember).

  2. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Because it’s been 10 years since SpaceShipOne.

    Because there is a good chance it will fly commercial passengers this year, and yes, a toy for the rich, but regardless, commercial passenger service is a real start.

    Because there are no government funds involved in it. And it’s not a byproduct of war.

    Because it has SpaceShipOne is followed by SpaceShipTwo is eventually followed by SpaceShipOrbitAchieved and SpaceShipCommercialPassengerServiceToSpace.

    Because we have no big projects any more such projects like these are what keeps are next generation of future physicists, engineers, chemists, mathematicians inspired.

    Because it celebrates what men do best. Explore, take risk, have fun, drink beer, and screw.

  3. Kengi says

    Correction: The Spaceship Company, which looks like it will operate the system, is now solely owned by Virgin. Scaled Composites is now owned by Northrop Grumman, and Burt Rutan has retired from it.

  4. Robert, not Bob says

    100 kilometers is a nice round number very close to the Karman Line, which as I understand it is the theoretical maximum altitude at which a vehicle can fly as an aircraft. Makes a convenient boundary to “outer space”. One benefit to the X-Prize was the end to those stupid arguments about whether Shepard and Grissom’s flights counted as “space flight” (they do).

  5. Nick Gotts says

    wtfwhateverd00d@2

    commercial passenger service is a real start.

    That’s what they said about Concorde.

    Because there are no government funds involved in it.

    Yup. That’s why it’s piddling around at a height lower than you can reach by balloon, rather than putting people into orbit and landing probes on the moon like the government of China; investigatimng the geological history of Mars like NASA, or maintaining a semi-permanent space station like a coalition of states.

    Because it has SpaceShipOne is followed by SpaceShipTwo is eventually followed by SpaceShipOrbitAchieved and SpaceShipCommercialPassengerServiceToSpace.

    Promises, promises.

    Because we have no big projects any more

    See the state-run projects above, plus exploring the geological history of Mars, measuring the locations of a billion stars to unprecedented accurracy, getting back data from interstellar space, confirming the existence of the Higgs boson, looking for gravity waves and cosmic neutrinos…

    Because it celebrates what men do best. Explore, take risk, have fun, drink beer, and screw. –

    Of course women never do any of these things, amirite?

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