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Virgin Galactic is one step closer to its goal of bringing paying tourists to the edge of space. The company announces that it will conduct its first crewed test flight from Spaceport America later this month.
The spaceship VSS Unity, a SpaceShipTwo model, takes off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, from where customers take off to the edge of space. The company previously conducted a series of test flights from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Now it will do another test with crew members on board New Mexico.
As reported by AP, the VSS Unity will be taken to great heights by a carrier jet and then released, from where its rocket engines will propel it to an altitude of at least 50 miles. The vehicle will then dismount and slide back to earth and land on a runway.
There is some debate about where altitude ends and space begins, but a commonly used delimiter is the Kármán line, which is 62 miles above sea level. This means that the flight is technically considered to be suborbital.
Crew members who will be on board include Virgin Galactic pilot CJ Sturckow and chief pilot Dave Mackay. However, the arrangement will be a little different from the way it will evolve with actual passengers on board.
“One thing to keep in mind about this flight is that once we are in space, we will be flying a little differently than planned to fly with our future astronauts,” the company said in a statement.
“That’s because we have three NASA payloads in the cabin that are flown through NASA’s flight opportunities program. Unlike our future astronauts, these payloads are not on board for visibility. Instead of stopping the vehicle tilt in the reverse position for the best view of the earth, we will tilt the vehicle 270 degrees after the boost to get to the boarding position as quickly as possible. This maneuver maximizes the amount of time that the payload remains in data acquisition mode. Carrying these payloads not only makes this test flight a revenue-generating one, it also demonstrates our commitment to enabling regular, accessible space-based scientific research. “
The aim is to conduct the test flight between November 19 and 23, according to a company statement after a take-off window opened on October 22.