Virgin Galactic Test Flight News Updates and Live Stream


Richard Branson finally goes to space on Sunday.

It’s been a long wait for Mr Branson, the irreverent 70-year-old British billionaire who leads a galaxy of Virgin companies. In 2004, he founded Virgin Galactic to provide adventure tourists with trips to the edge of space and back in rocket-powered airplanes.

At the time, he thought commercial service would begin in two to three years. Instead, nearly 17 years passed. Virgin Galactic says it needs to run three more test flights, including Sunday, before it’s ready for paying passengers.

For this flight, Mr. Branson will be a member of the crew. Its job is to evaluate the cabin experience for future customers.

The flight is scheduled to depart from Spaceport America in New Mexico, about 180 miles south of Albuquerque, on Sunday morning.

Virgin will release coverage of the flight It starts at 10:30 eastern time. The launch was pushed back about 90 minutes from its original start time because overnight weather conditions at the spaceport delayed the spacecraft’s departure from its hangar. But as the sun rose, the air at the launch site seemed suitable for flight.

Stephen Colbert will host the live broadcast. Singer Khalid is scheduled to sing a new song after the crew landed. And Mr Branson tweeted a photo with SpaceX founder Elon Musk this morning. To watch the flight in New Mexico.

The rocket plane, a type called SpaceShipTwo, is about the size of an executive jet. In addition to the two pilots, there will be four people in the cabin. This particular SpaceShipTwo is named VSS Unity.

Unity is transported to an altitude of approximately 50,000 feet in a larger plane to take off from the ground. There Unity will be released and the engine of the rocket plane will be ignited. The acceleration will allow people on board to feel a force of up to 3.5 times their normal weight when traveling to an altitude of more than 50 mph.

At the top of the arc, those on board will be able to rise from their seats and experience about four minutes of apparent weightlessness. Of course, they wouldn’t actually have escaped gravity. Fifty miles up, the Earth’s downward gravitational force is essentially as strong as on the ground; instead, passengers will fall at the same speed as the aircraft around them.

Credit…Virgin Galactic via Reuters

The two tail booms at the rear of the spaceplane rotate up to a “feathered” configuration that creates more drag and stability, allowing the airplane to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere more gently. This configuration makes the SpaceShipTwo look more like a badminton shuttlecock, which always falls with the pointed side down, rather than an airplane.

However, the forces felt by passengers descending will be greater than when ascending, reaching six times the force of gravity.

As the aircraft returns to the atmosphere, the tail booms rotate downward and the aircraft glides towards landing. The entire flight can take less than two hours.

The crew on Sunday's Virgin Galactic flight, left: Dave Mackay, Colin Bennett, Beth Moses, Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla and Michael Masucci.
Credit…Virgin Galactic via Associated Press

Pilots David Mackay and Michael Masucci.

In addition to Mr. Branson, three Virgin Galactic employees will evaluate what the experience will be like for future paying customers. They are chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses; Colin Bennett, chief operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations. Ms. Bandla will also conduct a science experiment provided by the University of Florida.

The federal government does not impose regulations for the safety of passengers on a spaceship like Virgin Galactic’s. Unlike commercial airliners, rocket planes are not approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. Indeed, the FAA is prohibited by law from issuing such requirements until 2023.

The rationale for this is that emerging space companies like Virgin Galactic need a “learning period” to experiment with designs and procedures, and too much regulation will stifle innovation that will soon lead to better, more efficient designs.

Future passengers will have to sign forms that give “informed consent” to the risks, similar to the one you sign if you go skydiving or bungee jumping.

What the FAA regulates is to ensure safety for people who are not on the plane – meaning that if something goes wrong, the risk to “disinterested public” on the ground is minimal.

Credit…via Henry A. Barrios/The Bakersfield Californian, Associated Press

The Virgin Galactic design already has a flawed security record. The company’s first spaceplane, VSS Enterprise, crashed during a test flight in 2014 when the co-pilot moved an arm too early in flight, allowing the tail booms to turn when they needed to stay stiff. The Enterprise disbanded and co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed. Pilot Peter Siebold escaped by parachuting out of the plane.

The controls have been redesigned so the tail booms cannot be opened prematurely.

In 2019, Virgin Galactic was on the verge of another disaster when a new metal thermal protection film was misplaced and a horizontal stabilizer (the small horizontal wing at the tail of an airplane) sealed the holes that allowed trapped air to flow out as the vehicle. rises into the rarer layers of the atmosphere. Instead, the pressure of the trapped air tore a seal along one of the stabilizers.

This setback was revealed in the book “Test Gods” by writer Nicholas Schmidle, who worked for The New Yorker earlier this year. The book quotes Todd Ericson, then vice president of safety and testing at Virgin Galactic, and says, “I don’t know how we didn’t lose our car and kill three people.”

Virgin Galactic will attempt to transport its founder and other crew members to the edge of space on Sunday.
Credit…Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Starting a space exploration company was perhaps an unsurprising step for Mr. Branson, who had made a career and a fortune. estimated at $6 billion – establishing flamboyant new businesses that he promotes with the talent of an entertainer.

What became the Virgin business empire began in the 1970s with a small record store in central London, before Mr Branson transferred it to Virgin Records, the home of the Sex Pistols, Peter Gabriel and more. In 1984, he co-founded the company that became Virgin Atlantic to challenge British Airways in the field of long-haul passenger air travel. Other Virgin-branded airlines followed suit.

Virgin Group has also dived into other businesses, including a cell phone carrier, a passenger railroad and a number of hotels. Not all have performed flawlessly: While both Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia filed for bankruptcy last year during the pandemic, few today remember his attempts. soft drinks, makeup supplies or underwear.

Virgin Galactic was announced with great fanfare in 2004 with the promise of creating a stylish space tourism company. virgin Orbit, a by-product That company, which launched small satellites from a jumbo jet, came 13 years later. Virgin Orbit, now separate from Virgin Galactic, carried payloads into orbit twice this year.

The space tourism company shares Mr. Branson’s passion for high-flying, including skydiving and hot air ballooning. And unlike most Virgin Group’s businesses that are actually minority investments or license-only businesses, Virgin Galactic has been Mr. Branson’s main focus. Raised $1 billion for space companies from Saudi Arabia. cancel the deal After the murder of opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. And in a regulatory filing, the company said it leveraged “its personal network, as well as referrals from existing reservation holders, to generate new inquiries and reservation sales.”

“We spent 14 years working on our space program,” Mr. Branson said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in 2018. “It was hard, and space is hard, rocket science.” He added that he hopes to travel on one of Virgin Galactic’s flights by the end of that year.

Virgin Galactic joined the New York Stock Exchange in 2019 after merging with a publicly traded mutual fund, giving it a strong source of new funding to compete with its deep-pocketed rivals – and Mr. Branson made his first ever trade on the New York Stock Exchange. . one of the company’s flight suits.

But as Virgin Galactic has tried to keep up with the likes of Mr. Bezos’ Blue Origin, Mr. Branson downplayed the rivalry between the two. “I know no one will believe me when I say it, but to be honest, I don’t,” she said. He told the Today Show earlier this week.


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