Last night, the founder of Virgin Galactic was able to successfully travel tens of kilometers above the Earth’s surface Go to the edge of space. Richard Branson, along with two pilots and three passengers on the spacecraft, was able to experience weightlessness for a short time. This trip is not only very important for Virgin Galactic and its founder, but it can also have a tremendous impact on the space tourism industry.
The VSS Unity spacecraft, separated from a larger aircraft in mid-air, was able to reach an altitude of approximately 86 km with its single-engine rocket engine. After reaching this altitude and, of course, experiencing the weightlessness of the occupants for a short time, the spacecraft prepared to return to Earth and was able to land in New Mexico.
Called Unity 22, it was the largest manned space mission by Virgin Galactic to travel to the edge of space. The flight is also an important achievement for the commercialization of space travel under orbit, which can be both enjoyable for the rich and deposit money into corporate bank accounts.
Richard Branson flew into space nine days earlier than former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with his flight yesterday. According to Jennifer Lavasor, a space historian, the journey of corporate spokespersons into space is astonishing:
“I am amazed at the fact that the founders of these companies decide to be on the first official missions. “To do that, you have to have too much faith in what is made and people, but some people feel so adventurous that they take the risk of such trips.”
Although Richard Branson’s trip is an important step for space tourism, there have also been criticisms of Virgin Galactic and, of course, Blue Origin Bezos because of the high ticket prices for such trips.
If you want to travel to space with Virgin Galaxy, you have to buy a ticket for $ 250,000. Although Blue Origin has not started selling tickets and we do not even know the exact price, last month it sold its first manned mission with Bezos at a ticket auction for $ 28 million.
Leaving aside the high price debate, such trips are a success for humans, and spacecraft such as Space Ship and New Shepard could become unique platforms for space exploration, and in the not-too-distant future, costs may be reduced so much that the middle class They can also experience space travel.
We’ll take a look at space tourism, the history of Virgin Galactic’s efforts, as well as the previous generation of Spaceship, and finally see what impact Branson’s move will have on future space travel. Stay with Digito until the end.
Space tourism industry
Private and personal space travel is not new. Since 2000, several wealthy people have spent tens of millions of dollars traveling to the International Space Station (ISS). In addition, NASA encourages private companies to send cargo and astronauts to the ISS. NASA cargo commercial flights have been underway since 2012, and the first manned commercial mission took place last year.
Despite these achievements, companies such as Virgin Galaxy and Blue Origin have been working on different types of spacecraft for years, aiming for space tourism. In the near future, any wealthy person can experience a trip to the edge of space at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars (or millions of dollars).
Although globally the space boundary is usually considered to be 100 km high and is called our line of work, the United States considers this number to be 80 km. Last night, Virgin Galaxy reached an altitude of 86 km, but the intended altitude for the July 29 Blue Origin flight is 105 km and above our line of work.
Building a new spacecraft for the tourism industry is extremely difficult and requires years of research, development and testing. These tests may even have casualties, such as the 2014 SpaceType prototype accident. But now BlueGirl and Virgin Galactic want to ensure the safety of such flights with the trip of their founders.
Virgin Galactic has a longer history than its rival, and Branson’s space programs date back to the mid-1990s, although the company was founded in 2004.
Design and development of new spacecraft
Unlike traditional space missions with manned space rockets that go from space to space, the Spaceshipto spacecraft was dropped by another large aircraft, the White Knight, in mid-air at an altitude of more than 12 kilometers. Next, the spacecraft turned on its rocket engine and headed for the edge of space. The spacecraft was about 3.5 times the speed of sound.
Launching rockets from the middle of the air to get humans into space may seem like a daunting task, but in reality such a method has its own advantages. The United States has been working on such technology for decades, such as the X-1 and X-15, the latter of which dates back to the 1960s and is still the fastest pilot aircraft, flying faster than the 1967 flight. It reached 7,000 kilometers per hour.
Another advantage of mid-air launch is that the spacecraft does not have to deal with the denser atmosphere of the lower part, so it can carry less fuel. In addition, it can land at regular airports, which reduces costs.
Work on the spacecraft began in 1996 and was awarded a $ 10 million Ansari X Prize. The prize was awarded to the first private team to fly the spacecraft twice to a height of 100 km above the ground by 2004.
For this race, an engineer named “Brett Rotan” went to air throwing and also used a unique method of reducing altitude. In Rotan’s design, the spacecraft’s wings moved upward to reduce altitude. Such a system dramatically reduces drag force when descending and speeds up where it can safely fall into the atmosphere and land on the ground.
The development of such a spacecraft was slow until Rotan and his company, Scaled Composite, received funding from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2001. In June 2004, the spacecraft was the first privately funded vehicle to enter space. The aircraft twice managed to reach an altitude of over 100 km and won a prize of $ 10 million.
Following this success, Branson received a Rotan design license for Virgin Galactic. Branson’s goal was to expand the spacecraft to carry several passengers, resulting in a space ship.
Spaceship’s long journey to space travel
The spacecraft is twice as big as its predecessor. Such an increase in dimensions means a redesign of the aircraft that must be flown and, of course, the engine that must be able to reach the edge of space. In addition, other technical issues had to be addressed.
Add to that the two deadly accidents. In 2007, three people were killed in an explosion before a rocket engine was tested. In late 2014, a prototype spacecraft crashed during landing, killing the co-pilot, but the pilot was severely injured. The 2014 crash, despite shocking Branson, did not stop the Space Shipito spacecraft from continuing to develop and strive to achieve the Virgin Galaxy goal.
After years of security improvements, the two Space Shuttle pilots first reached an altitude of 80 km in 2018 and did so again in 2019, this time with a passenger on the spacecraft who was Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut.
In May 2021, Virgin Galactic made its third successful flight at an altitude of more than 80 km, which resulted in the approval of a commercial flight. The same test made it possible for Branson to travel to space on a Unity 22 mission.
Space edge science
Although Bezos and Branson discuss the boundaries of space and altitude to travel, in fact both companies’ spacecraft could lead to new research. During these trips, passengers can experience weightlessness for 3 to 5 minutes, and of course, experiments can be performed in the same short time.
This is not the first time scientists have made suborbital trips, but most have been unmanned. Researchers can now travel on their own and conduct experiments in the middle of the journey.
In these journeys, one can examine the effect of microorganisms on life and how living organisms react to weightlessness. So space travel like Unity 22 missions can provide unique opportunities for scientists.
The future of suborbital travel
Although Branson’s recent trip is a huge success for Virgin Galactic and the space tourism industry, we still do not know how much the industry is growing and how much it is worth. Even if all the tickets for Virgin Galaxy and Blue Origin were sold, we still could not imagine an exact future.
Theoretically, ticket prices are declining as travel becomes more common, but the industry is currently targeting only the wealthy and, of course, wants to bring in researchers funded by another sector. But in the long run, these companies make space travel possible for the general public, though not all people, although they may fail to do so.
In addition, we must ensure the safety of such trips so that the same rich people go to the edge of space. Therefore, more trips should be made, and people will probably not be sure of their safety for several years to come, but will have a strong interest in space travel and adventure.
Another thing that can be troublesome for such an industry is the prevalence of space travel even among people with less capital. Regulators must also issue permits for these flights, a process that can have its own problems, especially if an accident occurs. So we should not expect extensive space travel in the near future, although this is the way it started, and Branson’s recent trip could go a long way toward helping the industry grow faster.
Virgin Galactic has already begun work on its next spacecraft and wants to continue to make progress. With the addition of Blue Origin to the industry, the future looks bright, although it is likely that only wealthy people will be able to travel to space for years to come. Of course, let’s not forget that Ilan Mask wants to send nearly 1 million people to Mars by 2050, who will probably be rich too.
The future of space travel is exciting, and by 2100 space travel or even interplanetary travel may be rampant, and ordinary people will be able to experience such travel at a low cost. While such a future may seem plausible, we have a long way to go, a path that Virgin Galactic is rightly taking with its overnight flight, bringing commercial space tourism even closer to reality.