back to article Virgin Galactic goes where it's gone twice before, for the first time in two years

On Saturday, Virgin Galactic completed another test flight, and the first from its new launch location outside White Sands National Park in New Mexico. VSS Unity, the name given to Virgin Galactic's second spaceplane, took off bolted to Virgin's mothership VMS Eve. After release, it hit Mach 3 and an apogee of 55.45 miles (89km …

  1. Ashto5

    Amazing

    We are so close to real space travel

    I hope it happens in my lifetime

  2. John Jennings Bronze badge
    Thumb Up

    Well done, one and all

    This solution has great promise

    The problem its solving, of course, is to part really wealthy people from their money!

    Seriously, though

    Space is hard, and this as a future model for LEO is perhaps ultimately the most efficient method for getting junk up there.

    While the spaceship One cant do LEO, the techniques might ultimately deliver a truly routine method to do so with Launcher One.

  3. Blergh

    I thought space was 100km?

    Have they moved the Kármán line?

    Should they not have gone another 11km before they proffer these space firsts?

    I still think it's great they are doing this. It's just a shame it has taken them so long to get to this point, even if I fully accept that space is hard.

    1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: I thought space was 100km?

      Only Virgin have, reverting to the old US Air Force definition. I suspect their ship is a tad overweight.

      1. HildyJ Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: I thought space was 100km?

        Virgin uses the US definition because the FAA, which issues commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s licenses, uses that definition.

        Remember that their current goal is carrying passengers on suborbital trips.

        In a more scientific mode, SpaceShipTwo has been selected as one of the providers in NASA's suborbital reusable launch vehicle (sRLV) program where it will reach the Kármán line.

        Pints for the boffins. Branson and his 1% passengers can buy their own.

    2. graeme leggett

      Re: I thought space was 100km?

      so it should have read ""the first person ever to have flown to space from three different states but only in the States."

      For the moment, FAI records elude the Bearded One's toy rocket

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: I thought space was 100km?

        Our space is the best! It's yuge! Other countries have to go further just to get to space, but in America it's right there.

    3. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: I thought space was 100km?

      Even the Blue Origin flying Dildo has made it to 107km with passengers planned soon and that's just a development platform!

    4. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: I thought space was 100km?

      Even the ancestor of this machine, Paul Allen funded Spaceship One win the Ansari X prize with over 100km.

      Maybe they need a better motor, or more fuel for a longer burn.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: I thought space was 100km?

        They could have gotten a bit closer. White Sands is at an elevation of about 1900m above sea level. Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico (which I can see from the Mountain Fastness), is at 4000m. Just launch from there and you've made up nearly 20% of the difference!

        (No, I'm not seriously suggesting this.)

  4. Lotaresco Silver badge

    Space operators' Licences

    "The flight also collected data needed for the company to obtain its FAA commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license"

    I suppose it's a sign that space travel is maturing that we now have a commercial reusable spacecraft operator's licence. I recall the good old days when teenagers were free to build an antigrav device in their bedroom and set out for Mars in a well insulated tea chest.(Welcome to Mars, James Blish, 1965)

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Space operators' Licences

      But we had Eagle Transporters in 1999.

      And SHADO Interceptors even before that .

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Space operators' Licences

        And Thunderbird 3, flying up to the orbital space station, Thunderbird 5, even earlier!

        And not forgetting the venerable Fireball X-1.

        On the other hand, Salvage-1 needed certification and a flight licence IIRC.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Space operators' Licences

          Oops, Fireball XL5, of course! Although I'm sure there must have been earlier versions, prototypes etc :-)

        2. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

          Re: Space operators' Licences

          I think the FAA commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license has a "no strings attached" clause.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Space operators' Licences

            Congratulations! You just won the interwebs!

  5. werdsmith Silver badge

    Alan Shepard might have said, had he been still alive today:

    "55 miles is OK but 60 years ago I reached 116 miles".

    1. Lon24 Silver badge

      Tish, you'll be telling me next they got to the moon 50 years ago.

      And 70 years ago we got the B-52 with 58 still in active service. Now expected to retire in 2050 after 100 years of USAF service. That is real aeronautical engineering that basically did with the X programme what VSS Unity does with its little hopper now. If only they could spice up those eight engine a little. Yep, I know that would cause an undercarriage issue but if Boeing pushed the engines forward a bit ...

  6. s. pam
    Angel

    When does the final crash test dummy go up on a test flight?

    Before this thing has paying customers Beardie should get himself on a flight just to prove he's putting his body where his mouth is!

    1. Santa from Exeter

      Re: When does the final crash test dummy go up on a test flight?

      He is going to be the first non-technical passenger

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: When does the final crash test dummy go up on a test flight?

      That is the plan and pretty much always has been the plan. Where have you been the last 10 years or so? Living in a cave?

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: When does the final crash test dummy go up on a test flight?

        To be fair, I didn't know that was his plan either. But then I also don't particularly care whether he goes or not.

        It's nice that we have multiple private firms innovating in this area, and I think it's fine that Branson is trying to use tourism to subsidize and advertise a bit. Not a personal priority for me – research is better done by machines, the long-term survival of H. sapiens is not something I'm invested in, and space travel will never be practical for all but the tiniest fraction of the population – but improving the technology is good.

  7. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    What?

    The online form warns the price of a flight will top $250k for those who sign up early

    I thought early sign up was about 15+ years ago?

  8. Zebo-the-Fat

    A lot of money for a sub orbital hop!

  9. Phones Sheridan

    What a view!

    Shiny space ships look so cool!

  10. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Joke

    "the first person ever to have flown to space from three different states."

    Scared, shit scared and meh?

    1. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
      Pint

      Re: "the first person ever to have flown to space from three different states."

      My, admittedly cider-addled mind, saw that as solid, liquid and gas.

      Note to self, don't do the interwebtubes under the affluence of incohol.

  11. steelpillow Silver badge
    Boffin

    I didn't know El Reg was US-chauvinist

    The American definition of the start of space is little higher than Trump can jump off one of his towers. The Internationally-recognised boundary is the Karman line, at 100 km or just over 60 miles. Virgin's manned effort has yet to make it that far.

    1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: I didn't know El Reg was US-chauvinist

      The definition of space is very much semantics. Karman himself put his eponymous line at a different height.

      As any commuter in London knows, space ends at the Northern Line.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: I didn't know El Reg was US-chauvinist

        "As any commuter in London knows, space ends at the Northern Line."

        It used to be Watford. When was it redrawn?

      2. Spherical Cow Silver badge

        Re: I didn't know El Reg was US-chauvinist

        "Karman himself put his eponymous line at a different height."

        Kármán proposed that 100 km be the designated boundary to space, because the round number is more memorable, and the calculated altitude varies minutely as certain parameters are varied.

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: I didn't know El Reg was US-chauvinist

      Yeah, yeah. It's now noted in the piece.

      C.

  12. Getmo

    EMI

    It's good to hear they have the EMI issues sorted now, but at least to me as an armchair engineer, that seemed like a fairly amateurish mistake to make.

    EM Interference is not a new problem. When I was working on semiconductor tools early in my career, one tool design we sold (designed in the 80s) was appalling how overkill they went with the EMI protections. Even the custom drawer (rack-mount) cases that had the bare metal face & back panels attached with metal screws, had at minimum a redundant ground/earth cable, and sometimes also had these flat extruded foam gasket strips, that were wrapped in conductive fabric with conductive adhesive on one side. These foam strips were applied to every edge surface where a panel would meet the case, creating a type of gasket, I guess to make the "EMI seal" essentially "air tight". We regularly had a laugh about how overkill it was, but were told to keep doing it for new tools just in case the customer wanted to install it right next to another gigantic noisy-EMI machine.

    For most of us it's so rarely an issue that it's ok to forget it exists until it creates a real problem. But for rocket engineers, I dunno, I guess I expected better.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: EMI

      Ah, those were the days.

      I spent a happy couple of years as head of EMC testing at a waferfab manufacturer. Best diagnostic tool was a portable AM radio. Anywhere near a poor Earth connection and it went off hissing and crackling like a pig in a furnace.

      But when engineers tried putting those flexible conductive thingies around the doors of the plasma process chambers, the particulate count went off the scale and yields fell to zero. And the price per metre, what a scam!

      Then, in a later incarnation, there was the household-name ICT client whose internal wiring standards were so hopelessly outdated the kit had to be bastardised and then put in a special room lined in kitchen foil to meet modern emissions standards.

      Yes, Virgin should have known better. But most design engineers do not want to understand EMC and when it bites them in the bum they just learn to be afraid of it and to be stupid more doggedly. And to hire me. Sorry Virgin, I've retired. :-D

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