VIRGIN Galactic is preparing for a crewed launch of its SpaceShipTwo space plane tomorrow.
Richard Branson’s company is aiming to test out the suborbital VSS Unity craft on May 22.
The test flight will launch from New Mexico[/caption]
This will be the third crewed flight of the craft.
VSS Unity can fit two pilots and six passengers.
It carried out successful tests in 2018 and 2019 and could one day take tourists into suborbital space.
Tomorrow’s mission will launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Billionaire Richard Branson is CEO of Virgin Galactic[/caption]
That’s Virgin Galactic’s commercial hub.
Unity has actually attempted test mission three before but the spacecraft’s rocket motors didn’t fire up.
Luckily, pilots C.J. Sturckow and Dave Mackay were able to bring the plane back to ground safely.
A plane is involved in launching the spacecraft[/caption]
Virgin Galactic has been working on changes so that the same issue doesn’t happen again.
It will be testing those fixes on Saturday.
Company representatives wrote in a statement: “The flight will also incorporate all original test objectives, including assessment of the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during the boost phase of the flight, evaluating elements of the customer cabin and testing the livestream capability from the spaceship to the ground.”
The craft could take tourists to space as early as next year[/caption]
As well as the two pilots, Unity will also be carrying some scientific experiments into space as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.
If all goes well with tomorrow’s test, the space plane could begin commercial flights as early as next year.
What is Virgin Galactic?
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Intrepid explorers are lining up – and digging deep – to travel into space with Virgin Galactic.
British billionaire Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, initially predicted the maiden space flight would launch by 2009.
But the date has been repeatedly pushed back due to technical problems.
In 2016, the late Professor Stephen Hawking unveiled Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo craft, called VSS Unity, after the first SpaceShipTwo craft VSS Enterprise crashed during tests in 2014, killing one of its pilots.
A successful maiden flight finally took place in mid-December 2018.
If all goes to plan, space fans will be launched more than 50 miles above Earth – a point at which Nasa defines as outer space.
Passengers will ride aboard SpaceShipTwo, a spaceplane designed to carry six passengers and two pilots.
It is carried aloft by a large aeroplane before breaking away and zooming to an altitude of about 62 miles.
Passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before Unity fires up its engines and soars back to Earth, landing on a runway like a conventional aircraft.
With a hefty price tag of $250,000 (£175,000) a ticket, the 90-minute flight is being aimed at wealthy celebrities and thrillseekers.
Branson has said that “ultimately” he would like to see the price fall as low as $40,000 (£30,700) over the next decade.
Virgin Galactic is up against fierce competition in the private space race from firms such as Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
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In other space news, China has released the first images taken by its groundbreaking Martian rover, Zhurong, on the Red Planet – including a “selfie”.
Nasa has released historic first audio recordings captured on the surface of Mars.
And, China and Russia have pledged to build a shared Moon base, marking the start of a new era in space cooperation between the two countries.
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