Virgin Galactic’s spaceship makes solo flight but without rocket engine

11.10.2010 (BBC)

by Jonathan Amos

Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spaceship, Enterprise, has made its first solo test
flight, in California.

The spaceship was carried to an altitude of 45,000ft (13,700m) by an aeroplane
and then dropped to glide back to the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Enterprise will soon be taking people prepared to pay $200,000 ( £126,000) on
short hops above the atmosphere.

The British billionaire behind the project, Sir Richard Branson, was on hand
to witness the drop test.

“This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin,” the
entrepreneur said.

“For the first time since we seriously began the project in 2004, I watched the
world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on the runway at Mojave Air
and Space Port and it was a great moment.”

Virgin Galactic is aiming to become the world’s first commercial space line,
and has already taken deposits from 370 customers who want to experience a few
minutes of weightlessness on a suborbital flight.

“We’re not far off booking out our first year of operations,” said Stephen Attenborough,
head of astronaut relations at Galactic.

Drop test (Virgin Galactic)  
Enterprise will soon start rocket motor testing  

“We’ll see exactly how many we decide to fly in year one, but the intention has
always been around 500. We’re well on our way to that,” he told BBC News.

The Enterprise ship is based on the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne vehicle, which
made history in 2004 by successfully flying to 100km (60 miles) in altitude twice
in a two-week period.

The new ship, built by Mojave’s Scaled Composites company, is bigger and will
be capable of carrying eight people – two crew and six passengers.

When it eventually enters service, Enterprise will be carried to its launch altitude
by the “Eve” carrier plane before being released in mid-air. Enterprise will then
ignite its single hybrid rocket engine to make the ascent to space.

Although Eve and Enterprise have made several test flights together, Sunday was
the first time the spaceplane had been released at altitude.

Two pilots were at the controls, Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury. They guided the
ship back to the Mojave runway.

The entire flight took about 25 minutes. On later test flights, Enterprise will
fire its rocket engine.

Only when engineers are satisfied all systems are functioning properly will passengers
be allowed to climb aboard.

“We are focused on safety and making sure we know everything about this vehicle
before we put it into commercial operations. There is a timetable in terms of
what we’re going to do, but as we’ve said many times before, ‘it takes as long
as it takes’, Mr Attenborough said.

“The next big milestone will be when we start the rocket motor propulsion tests”.




There is more at Virgin Galactica’s website at

Here’s a sample ( transcontinental passenger and freight travel via space ????):



Virgin Galactic aims to support low gravity and near-space scientific research
through its space launch systems.In particular, access to the upper atmosphere
from the limit of commercial aviation flight (~40000ft or 12km) to the edge of
space at ~100km is very limited. Balloons cannot reach the upper Earth atmosphere,
and orbital vehicles fly too high. Ground based measurements e.g. with lasers
and rocket experiments into the region have either limited sensitivity or duration
respectively. However the upper atmosphere is the “gateway” that connects Earth’s
environment and space, where great surges of energy meet, from the Earth surface
radiating back into space, and energy from the sun and interplanetary space traveling
inwards. A specific region of the upper atmosphere, the mesosphere (50-90km) is
a highly sensitive indicator of global atmospheric temperatures, thus might act
as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ where climate change is concerned. Virgin Galactic
aims to revolutionize regular access to this region for scientists and their experiments,
thus greatly enhancing our ability to understand climate change and determine
mitigation strategies.

Further, the ability to travel suborbitally and experience periods of near-zero
or ‘microgravity’ can enable a range of valuable scientific experiments currently
performed by sounding rockets or at great cost using the long duration space station
or space shuttle. Microgravity science can address problems such as protein folding
which is instrumental in developing designer drugs to combat a host of diseases;
and designing new materials for transportation, computing and biomedicine. The
space launch system under development will allow more detailed, affordable and
frequent ‘human in the loop’ microgravity science experiments. These have the
potential to rapidly advance several areas of science that have stagnated in the
last few decades due to poor access to space.

Our Future.

Virgin Galactic’s plan for sub-orbital space launch represents just a first step
and much more will need to be done in the future if we are to reap the greater
benefits that space offers. The next steps will take significant new private sector
investment which we believe will be readily available if Virgin Galactic is a
commercial success. It is clear from industries such as mobile telephony that
once technologies are unlocked from government control and exposed to private
R&D and investment, innovation and change can rapidly follow.

We believe that the advent of space-based solar power, space-based server farms,
transcontinental passenger and freight travel via space and a range of other transformational
applications are all achievable in a relatively short time frame. How short will
depend to a large degree on the early and visible success of Virgin Galactic and
other similar cutting edge clean-tech initiatives.




see also

Leo Hickman’s environmental blog about Virgin Galalctic

in the Guardian   11th May 2009

It’s not rocket science: leaving the planet costs the Earth

Virgin Galactic’s assertion that space flight can be ‘green’ will never get off
the ground