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Virgin Galactic prepares for its first spaceflight from Spaceport America

It has also announced the first scientist to fly aboard one of its future flights.
Mariella Moon,
October 15, 2020
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Virgin Galactic has started for its first suborbital spaceflight that’s launching from Spaceport America in New Mexico. CNBC found FCC filings back in September revealing the aerospace company’s plans for the last round of SpaceShipTwo tests. Now, Virgin Galactic has confirmed that it is indeed opening its flight planning window for the first of two crewed tests on October 22nd, which means the mission could launch that day or anytime after that.

The company’s preparations include training its pilots using its ground-based simulator, as well as using its carrier aircraft VMS Eve. Apparently, the aircraft, which carries the SpaceShipTwo to the skies before dropping it mid-air, has very similar structure and controls to the spacecraft itself. The spacecraft will also be put through its paces on the ground and will undergo a bunch of pre-flight checks.

Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle flew to space twice in the past. In 2019, the company’s chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses accompanied the mission’s two pilots, becoming Virgin Galactic’s first test passenger for the suborbital flights it plans to offer space tourists in the future. However, this is the first flight leaving from its headquarters in Spaceport America, where it moved to from California last year.

The Southwest Research Institute has also announced that one of its planetary scientists will be a passenger on a future Virgin Galactic flight. Dr. Alan Stern will conduct a NASA-funded science experiment while he’s onboard. In particular, he’ll be operating a former space shuttle and NASA F-18 low light level camera to determine how well astronomical observations can be conducted from space. He will also be fitted with instruments that monitor human vital signs. Stern said it’s “the first selection of a private-sector researcher to fly with NASA funding on commercial vehicles” and that it could lead to more experiments conducted by researchers in space.

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