Virgin Galactic is doing a great deal to etch its name in the aerospace industry. While the company hasn’t exactly gotten the same buzz as SpaceX and Boeing, it makes significant waves in the space exploration industry.
To be fair, none of the companies that made grandiose statements about space exploration have exactly set out. However, if any company is in a position to make progress, it is Virgin Galactic. The brainchild of British billionaire Richard Branson, the company has had its setbacks and successes on its way to the top. Now, on the back of its recent progress, it seems poised to break new ground.
Things Are Finally Looking Up
Earlier this week, the Virgin Orbit rocket successfully reached orbit for the first time, releasing satellites. The company, which is the sister outfit to Virgin Galactic, is gearing up for the second test of its small satellite-launching rocket – a development that is coming months after a significant setback (more on that ion a bit).
The success marked a milestone for several reasons. It was the first time Virgin Galactic would launch working satellites into space while working with NASA. Around 1 PM on Sunday, the Boring747 from Virgin Orbit took off from the Virgin Galactic space front and reached 35,000 feet, holding the satellite-launching rocket under its wing. It eventually reached a probable height and launched its payload, providing Virgin Galactic’s most significant win to date.
Banishing the Ghost of Failures
Like pretty much every company going into the aerospace industry, Virgin Galactic has had to deal with some considerable setbacks. Last month, the company had to abort the first test flight for its spaceplane, bringing the vehicle down before it could get to space.
A live stream on Twitch caught the aborted engine ignition, showing the space plane – called VSS Unity - dropping from its carrier aircraft in mid-air. Then, the vehicle briefly ignited the main engine. Sadly, the ignition cut out after a few moments. A typical flight will involve the spaceplane’s engine staying on for at least a minute. This way, the vehicle can easily leave the Earth’s atmosphere and enter into space.
As the engine cut out, the VSS Unity simply became a glider and was able to get back to its New Mexico-based launch site. Virgin Galactic confirmed that VSS Units had returned safely to New Mexico, and that the two captains – Dave Mackay and C.J. Sturckow – had made it back safe and sound. The company added that it might have to replace the engines shortly.
Virgin Orbit hasn’t had a smooth sail either. The company has spent several years on the airborne rocket launch, and it has been going through one stage of tests after another, looking to perfect its technology. Sadly, the first full test of its rocket-launching satellite, which occurred in May 2020, also failed.
According to reports, the plane had begun its ascent with great promise. The rocket eventually dropped out, and its engine even ignited to show that it was all ready to go. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. It was later discovered that a liquid oxygen fuel line problem had prevented the rocket from getting high enough to go into orbit.
Where Does Virgin Galactic Go From Here?
Now that Virgin Galactic appears to be set for more success, the company is looking ahead in the most significant way possible. It is now hoping to finally take passengers into space, although that dream is probably still a few years from now. Passengers – including Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber – filed to pay the $250,000 ticket price when Virgin Galactic announced its audacious bid. The company is still focusing on making good on this bid, no matter how long it takes.
Last year, Virgin Galactic unveiled the design for its SpaceShipTwo craft. Designed in partnership with Seymourpowell – a London-based studio, the VSS Unity tourist cabin is set to be state of the art indeed. Passengers will be able to sit in chairs that move, effectively managing the G-force as the craft moves through different flight phases.
There will also be personal seat-back screens that will show flight data and 12 large windows. This makes it perhaps the largest spacecraft in the history of man – at least, Virgin Galactic says it will be. All features will ensure that passengers stay comfortable as they take in the sights of space, and there will also be a large mirror at the craft’s end to help passengers view themselves while being weightless.
Possible Challenges Lie Ahead
Of course, the fact that Virgin Galactic has made considerable progress doesn’t mean that the company is fully set. It might claim that it wants to get people into space this year, but even the most optimistic fan will see that this is barely possible.
For one, there are several development steps that the company will still need to make to ensure that its flights are safe and travel-ready. At the same time, Virgin Galactic will also need to put plans in place to ensure that its tourist experience is as immersive as it promises.
All of these are coming on the back of the increasingly fierce competition. The aerospace industry is getting more crowder, with companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin making considerable progress in their efforts to take people and payloads beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.