Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson Gears Up for Space Flight on July 11: All You Need to Know
Decades after burnishing his reputation as a wealthy daredevil mogul in a series of boating and hot-air balloon expeditions, Richard Branson is poised to promote his burgeoning astro-tourism venture by launching himself to the final frontier.
Branson’s Virgin Galactic is due on Sunday to send the company’s passenger rocket plane, the VSS Unity, on its first fully crewed test flight to the edge of space, with the British billionaire founder among the six individuals strapping in for the ride.
The gleaming white spaceplane will be borne by a twin-fuselage carrier jet dubbed VMS Eve (named for Branson’s mother) to an altitude of 50,000 feet, where Unity will be released and soar by rocket power in an almost vertical climb through the outer fringe of Earth’s atmosphere.
At the apex of its flight some 55 miles (89km) above the New Mexico desert, the crew will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before making a gliding descent back to Earth.
If all goes according to plan, the flight will last about 90 minutes and end where it began – on a runway at Spaceport America near the aptly named town of Truth or Consequences.
Virgin’s Unity 22 mission marks the 22nd test flight of the spacecraft, and the company’s fourth crewed mission beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
But it will be the first to carry a full complement of space travelers – two pilots and four “mission specialists,” Branson among them.
Milestone and publicity
Although the mission is seen as a potential milestone in helping transform citizen rocket travel into a mainstream commercial venture, spaceflight remains an inherently hazardous endeavor.
An earlier prototype of the Virgin Galactic rocket plane crashed during a test flight over California’s Mojave Desert in 2014, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another.
If successful, Sunday’s flight will also give Branson bragging rights to besting rival Jeff Bezos and his space company, Blue Origin, in what has been popularised as a “billionaire space race.” Bezos, founder of online retail giant Amazon.com, is slated to fly aboard Blue Origin’s suborbital rocketship, the New Shepard, later this month.
Branson’s official job on his flight is to “evaluate the private astronaut experience,” and his observations will be used to “enhance the journey for all future astronaut customers,” according to Virgin’s press materials.
But Marco Caceres, a senior space analyst for the Virginia-based consulting firm Teal Group, said the Branson and Bezos ride-alongs were each “a bit of a publicity stunt.”
“If they succeed, their ventures will be taken more seriously,” Caceres said. “There’s plenty of multimillionaires in the world that would like to go up on an adventure, so long as they see it as relatively safe.”
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, along with fellow billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX, are competing head-to-head in the emerging business of space tourism, though Musk has a big head start.
Branson, 70, insists there is plenty of demand from wealthy would-be citizen astronauts to go around, and that he had no intention of trying to upstage Bezos.
‘Not a race’
“It’s honestly not a race,” Branson told Reuters in an interview earlier this week. “If it’s a race, it’s a race to produce wonderful spaceships that can make many more people be able to access space. And I think that’s both of our aims.”
The spaceplane’s two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, will control the ignition and shutoff of the ship’s rocket engine, and activate the vehicle’s “feathered” tail maneuver for re-entry.
The three other mission specialists are Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor; Virgin Galactic’s lead operations engineer Colin Bennett; and Sirisha Bandla, a research operations and government affairs vice president.
The Virgin brand, including Branson’s airline and former record label, has long been associated with exploits of derring-do by its flamboyant founder. Branson set a new record for the fastest boat crossing of the Atlantic in 1986, a year after his initial attempt ended with a Royal Air Force helicopter rescue when his vessel capsized.
In 1987 he made a record-breaking Atlantic crossing by hot-air balloon, though again he had to be rescued from the sea. He went on to break at least two other air-balloon speed records but failed to complete any of three bids to circumnavigate the globe by balloon.
As for Sunday’s flight, Branson said this week that he is excited, “and I really don’t think there’s anything there to be scared about.”
Assuming the mission goes well, Virgin has said it plans two further test flights of the spaceplane before beginning commercial service next year.
The company has said it has received more than 600 flight reservations, priced at around $250,000 (roughly Rs. 1.9 crores) per ticket, but hopes eventually to slash the cost of each seat to $40,000 (roughly Rs. 29.8 lakhs).
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Aditya L1 Solar Mission Begins Studying Energetic Particles in Solar Wind
After India’s solar mission, Aditya L1 began its journey towards Lagrange point 1 following a key manoeuvre, it has started studying energetic particles in the solar wind from space and will continue to do so for the rest of its life, a senior astrophysicist said. The study of the solar wind, the continuous flow of charged particles from the sun which permeates the solar system, will be carried out with the help of a device named Supra Thermal & Energetic Particle Spectrometer (STEPS), a part of the Aditya Solar wind Particle Experiment (ASPEX) payload.
“STEPS is now working from space. However, it was not sitting idle earlier. It has started functioning from within the magnetic field of the Earth since September 10 when Aditya was 52,000 kilometres above our planet,” Dr Dibyendu Chakrabarty, professor of Space and Atmospheric Sciences at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) said.
STEPS was developed by the PRL with support from the Space Application Centre (SAC) in Ahmedabad.
“During the travel time of four months (till Aditya L1 reaches its destination), it will study energetic particles in the solar wind. The data will help maintain the health and performance of our space assets in a better way,” Dr Chakrabarty told PTI.
The key aim of STEPS is to study the environment of energetic particles from the spacecraft’s position on the L1 point till it will function, he said. “The data from STEPS in the long term will also help us understand how space weather changes,” the space scientist said.
STEPS comprises six sensors, each observing in different directions and measuring supra-thermal and energetic ions. The data collected during the Earth’s orbits helps scientists to analyse the behaviour of particles surrounding the planet, especially in the presence of its magnetic field.
Aditya-L1, launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on September 2, will go up to the First Lagrangian point, about 1.5 million km from the Earth ISRO on September 18 said on X: “Off to Sun-Earth L1 point! The Trans-Lagrangean Point 1 Insertion (TL1I) manoeuvre is performed successfully. The spacecraft is now on a trajectory that will take it to the Sun-Earth L1 point.” Lagrangian points are where gravitational forces, acting between two objects, balance each other in such a way that the spacecraft can ‘hover’ for a longer period of time.
The L1 point is considered the most significant of the Lagrangian points, for solar observations, which were discovered by mathematician Joseph Louis Lagrange.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink Receives Approval to Start Brain Implant Human Trial
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk‘s brain-chip startup Neuralink said on Tuesday it has received approval from an independent review board to begin recruitment for the first human trial of its brain implant for paralysis patients.
Those with paralysis due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may qualify for the study, it said but did not reveal how many participants would be enrolled in the trial, which will take about six years to complete.
The study will use a robot to surgically place a brain-computer interface (BCI) implant in a region of the brain that controls the intention to move, Neuralink said, adding that its initial goal is to enable people to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.
The company, which had earlier hoped to receive approval to implant its device in 10 patients, was negotiating a lower number of patients with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after the agency raised safety concerns, according to current and former employees. It is not known how many patients the FDA ultimately approved.
Musk has grand ambitions for Neuralink, saying it would facilitate speedy surgical insertions of its chip devices to treat conditions like obesity, autism, depression and schizophrenia.
In May, the company said it had received clearance from the FDA for its first-in-human clinical trial when it was already under federal scrutiny for its handling of animal testing.
Even if the BCI device proves to be safe for human use, it would still potentially take more than a decade for the startup to secure commercial use clearance for it, according to experts.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
ISRO’s Aditya-L1 Performs TL1I Manoeuvre, Set to Reach Sun-Earth L1 Point
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced on Tuesday that its maiden solar mission — Aditya-L1 — has performed the Trans-Lagrangean Point 1 Insertion (TL1I) manoeuvre successfully and the spacecraft was now in a trajectory that will take it to the Sun-Earth L1 point. ISRO also informed that it marked the fifth consecutive time that the ISRO had successfully transferred an object on a trajectory toward another celestial body or location in space.
A post on the ISRO official handle on social media platform X read, “Aditya-L1 Mission | Off to Sun-Earth L1 point | The Trans-Lagrangean Point 1 Insertion (TL1I) manoeuvre is performed successfully. The spacecraft is now on a trajectory that will take it to the Sun-Earth L1 point. It will be injected into an orbit around L1 through a manoeuvre after about 110 days. This is the fifth consecutive time ISRO has successfully transferred an object on a trajectory toward another celestial body or location in space.”
Earlier, a launcher carrying the Aditya-L1 spacecraft blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Station at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The primary objectives of India’s maiden solar mission include collecting scientific data and marking another milestone in India’s solar exploration efforts.
The agency had earlier posted on X, “Aditya-L1 Mission: Aditya-L1 has commenced collecting scientific data. The sensors of the STEPS instrument have begun measuring supra-thermal and energetic ions and electrons at distances greater than 50,000 km from Earth. This data helps scientists analyze the behaviour of particles surrounding Earth. The figure displays variations in the energetic particle environment, collected by one of the units.”
The Supra Thermal and Energetic Particle Spectrometer (STEPS) instrument, a part of the Aditya Solar Wind Particle Experiment (ASPEX) payload, also started its data-gathering operations earlier.
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