Virgin Galactic DELAYS second attempt to return to the edge of space

Virgin Galactic DELAYS its second attempt to return to the edge of space: Richard Branson’s firm says ‘weather isn’t cooperating’ for flight – but doesn’t reveal when it’s rescheduled for

  • Virgin Galactic first went above 50 miles for the first time in December 2018  
  • It is now hoping to return to these altitudes and perform more supersonic tests 
  • The precise launch time of the test flight in the Mojave Desert remains unknown 
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Uncooperative weather in the Mojave Desert has thrown a wrench in Virgin Galactic’s plans to attempt its second supersonic flight to the edge of space today. 

The test flight window for Richard Branson’s aerospace firm opened early Wednesday morning, though Virgin remained characteristically guarded about exactly when the plane was slated to take off.

In a tweet just after 9:00 a.m. ET (6:00 a.m. PST), however, Virgin Galactic said it would not be flying today, after all.  

Blaming the weather for the delay, Virgin says it will attempt flight again sometime ‘in the next few days.’ 

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Virgin Galactic reached the edge of space for the first time in 2018 (pictured). The milestone accomplishment for Richard Branson’s space tourism endeavours is now set to be repeated, if all goes according to plan

The firm went to space in December last year and its billionaire founder said he intends to be on-board one of the flights ‘within six months’.

Virgin returning to altitudes exceeding 50 miles puts the company one step closer to  conquering commercial spaceflight and beating commercial rivals SpaceX and Blue Origin in the race to ferry paying customers to space. 

This journey will enable scientists working for Virgin to take detailed readings, including of the vehicle’s centre of gravity, which will help inform future flights. 

The precise launch time remains unknown but Virgin has said the ‘window’ for the test flight is now open. 

Virgin Galactic plans to conduct two or three more tests of this kind, and move its operations to New Mexico before sending Branson flying more than 250,000 feet above Earth. 

The aerospace firm’s SpaceShipTwo craft reached a boundary more than 50 miles above Earth last year and today will hope to replicate that. 

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Branson said the achievement marks the first time a crewed craft designed to carry private passengers has made it to space.

The company’s definition of the edge of space, however, sits lower than the widely accepted space boundary said to be at 62 miles high.

Virgin instead uses the altitude of 50 miles (about 80 kilometers), which is used by NASA and the US Air Force for awarding astronaut wings.

In any case, the achievement puts Virgin well ahead of its competitors – Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin – who have yet to carry crew to a point so high using their passenger craft.

This run will see the flight run for longer and the pane will be heavier – approaching its fully-laden commercial weight.  

Virgin Galactic said: ‘With the usual caveats that apply to all test flights, and with the added uncertainties of weather at this time of year in Mojave, the window for our fifth supersonic powered test flight opens tomorrow, Wednesday 20 February.’ 

The blog post also shed light on the scientific goals of the flight. 

Virgin returning to space puts the company one step closer to commercial spaceflight and ferrying paying customers. This journey will enable scientists working for Virgin to take detailed readings which will inform future flights 

It read: ‘So, for this flight, we will be expanding the envelope to gather new and vital data essential to future tests and operations, including vehicle centre of gravity.’ 

‘As we prepare for this next flight, we do so with meticulous care and great attention to detail.

‘As always, there are no guarantees that everything will go to plan or work perfectly and the team’s overriding priority is always to bring crew and spaceship home safely. 

‘Whether we complete all our objectives during the next flight or not, we remain committed to completing the final stages of flight test as quickly, but more importantly as safely, as possible.’

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo can be seen as it takes off for a suborbital test flight of the VSS Unity on December 13, 2018, in Mojave, California

During the test flight, VSS Unity will be co-piloted by Mike Masucci and Dave Mackay. 

When the first milestone of spaceflight was achieved, the firm revealed its further goals in using the craft closer to its limits.   

‘We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos,’ Branson said after the flight.

Virgin has invested heavily in commercial space exploration and has had a chequered past. 

‘Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder,’ Branson said after the first successful flight to space. ‘Today, as I stood among a truly remarkable group of people with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled’

The company first promised to fly tourists into space by the start of 2009, but multiple delays and a fatal test flight crash in 2014 have pushed its first spaceflight back numerous times.

Virgin Galactic completed its first supersonic flight since the infamous crash, which killed one test pilot and severely injured another, in 2018.

It was a key step in bringing the company closer to its goal of offering commercial spaceflight to the 600 patrons who have paid $250,000 for a ride.

Branson said ‘ultimately’ he would like to see the price fall to around £30,000 ($40,000) or £38,000 ($50,000) over the next ten years. 

Virgin has also partnered up with a variety of firms to sustain the programme. 

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson shared a stunning look from the cockpit a few hours after the first successful test flight, showing the pilots’ view of Earth from miles above

Branson says the achievement marks the first time a crewed craft designed to carry private passengers has made it to space. The company’s definition of the edge of space, however, sits lower than the widely accepted space boundary said to be at 62 miles high

The company’s definition of the edge of space, however, sits lower than the widely accepted space boundary said to be at 62 miles high. Virgin instead uses the altitude of 50 miles (about 80 kilometers), which is used by NASA and the US Air Force for awarding astronaut wings 

American apparel firm Under Armour is Virgin’s ‘technical spacewear partner’ and is working on custom space suits and footwear for Virgin Galactic passengers and pilots.

It is also curating custom built programs to improve the physical preparation and recovery of astronauts ahead of the trips to space. 

The demands of the flight on the human body mean paying passengers need to able to withstand the arduous journey’s. 

Under Armour is also providing uniforms for Virgin Galactic’s team at Spaceport America in New Mexico. 

Branson said: ‘I have followed Under Armour’s progress through a personal friendship with its CEO, Kevin Plank and via the great relationships it has established over the years with various Virgin companies.

‘I’ve loved its determination to push technical boundaries in order to improve performance, so could not have been more pleased when Kevin and his talented teams stepped up to the considerable task of creating a range of space apparel and performance programmes for Virgin Galactic.’ 


Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin’s space capsule

Jeff Bezos’ space tourism project with Blue Origin is competing with a similar programme in development by Space X, the rocket firm founded and run by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Virgin Galactic, backed by Richard Branson.

Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (£720 million) of Amazon stock each year.

The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket. 

The richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos is pursuing Blue Origin with vigour as he tries to launch his ‘New Glenn’ rocket into low-Earth orbit by 2020.  

Whilst Bezos is yet to leave the atmosphere of Earth, despite several successful launches, Elon Musk’s SpaceX programme has already sent the Falcon Heavy rocket into space.

On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent the rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away. 

On board was a red Tesla roadster that belonged to Musk himself.

Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule

SpaceX have won several multi-million dollar contracts from Nasa as the space agency hopes to use the rockets as a fast-track for its colonisation of the red planet. 

Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic recently successfully conducted a test flight of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceplane.   

The flight accelerated to over 1,400 miles per hour (Mach 1.87).

Calling space ‘tantalisingly close’, Branson also said last year that suborbital space in test flights could be happening by this spring. 

More than 700 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips, 

The billionaire mogul also said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX. 

Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft

SpaceShipTwo will carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.

The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.

A climb to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere, at which point SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier aircraft, White Knight II.

The spaceship will then make a sub-orbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 3.5 hours.  

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