Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 33° Partly Cloudy
News >  Sci/Tech

Window opens for Virgin Galactic’s final round of testing

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 20, 2020

SpaceShipTwo Unity is released from the carrier mothership VMS Eve for a second successful glide flight in New Mexico on June 25, in this photo provided by Virgin Galactic.  (Associated Press)
SpaceShipTwo Unity is released from the carrier mothership VMS Eve for a second successful glide flight in New Mexico on June 25, in this photo provided by Virgin Galactic. (Associated Press)
By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The window for the final round of testing of Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered spacecraft opens later this week as the company inches toward commercial flights.

Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses updated New Mexico lawmakers on the progress during a meeting Monday. He said the space tourism company has done nine flights from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico, including two glide flights by the spaceship.

While the exact date has yet to be determined, the upcoming test will mark the third space flight for Virgin Galactic and the first from New Mexico. Moses called it a big milestone for an idea that was first pitched decades ago.

“New Mexico will join California and Florida as only the third state in the U.S. to host human space flight missions and send people into space,” Moses said.

For the test flight, two pilots will crew the spacecraft and cargo, including several research projects will be carried in the cabin. Assuming everything goes well and the engineers sign off, Moses said Virgin Galactic can move to the next phase, which will involve company mission specialists and engineers being loaded into the passenger cabin. They will evaluate all the hardware, camera settings and which angles will provide the best views.

“This is going to be a life-changing experience for folks and we want to make sure we’re delivering an A-plus ride,” he said.

More than 600 customers from around the world have purchased tickets to be launched into the lower fringes of space where they can experience weightlessness and get a view of the Earth below. The suborbital flights are designed to reach an altitude of at least 50 miles before gliding to a landing.

In addition to those who have put down deposits for a ride with Virgin Galactic, several thousands more have registered their interest online.

The idea to build the spaceport in the New Mexico desert was first hatched years ago by British billionaire Richard Branson and former Gov. Bill Richardson.

Branson will be among the first passengers sometime in the first quarter next year.

“He’s probably our biggest fan as well as our biggest critic, so who better to help judge that experience than him?” Moses said.

That experience will involve about an hour of climbing to an altitude of about 50,000 feet, with the spacecraft attached to a special jet-powered plane. The craft will then be released and light its rocket engine.

“We climb up to space altitude, but gravity wins and pulls us right back down again,” Moses said.

“We don’t have nearly enough speed to stay in orbit, so we just go up and right back down again – about a minute of rocket motor burn, about four minutes of weightlessness and then about 15 minutes to come back and land.”

Moses said passengers will get to see a view of the Earth similar to the first photographs taken of the planet from a V-2 rocket that was launched more than 70 years ago from White Sands Missile Range, located just east of the spaceport.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.



Annual health and dental insurance enrollment period open now

 (Courtesy Washington Healthplanfinder)
Sponsored

2020 has been a stressful year for myriad reasons.