Thursday, 14 April 2011


Yuri Gagarin’s day is celebrated internationally on 12 April; this year is the 50th Anniversary of his successful flight.

Yuri Gagarin. Cosmonaut, Fighter Pilot, Family man; is celebrated in Russia as the symbol of success of his country in the race to space. NASA 2011.On 12 April 1961, Gagarin spent 108 minutes in space completing an orbit around the Earth, taking his place in history as the first human in space.

Yuri Gagarin’s courageous contribution opened the doors of space to the human race. Since that day, mankind was no longer constrained to our planet or our atmosphere.

His first step has been followed by hundreds of astronauts. In the near future many more will continue on their way to new destinations including other planets.

Now a Russian hero, Gagarin was born on 9 March, 1934 in Klushino, a Russian village of the Smolensk region. The adjacent town of Gzhatsk was renamed Gagarin in 1968 in his honour.

Early in his life his education was compromised by WWII, when his village was occupied by fascists and schools closed. After the war he completed school and graduated in 1949 to enter vocational school to become a moulder.

Yuri Gagarin had a brilliant career from Fighter Pilot to Cosmonaut and then to national hero. He became the first human in space when he successfully orbited the Earth on 12th April 1961. NASA 2011.He graduated with honours in 1951 and was sent to Saratov technical school, where he attended the Saratov aeroclub. The Aeroclub authorities recommend him to attend Chkalov Air Force academy in Orenburg, from where he graduated as a pilot in 1957.

For the following 3 years he served as fighter pilot of the Soviet North Fleet. During that time he signed up as candidate to become a cosmonaut.

In 1960, at the age of 25, the then Luitenant Pilot Yury Gagarin received confirmation that he was chosen to train as a cosmonaut.

Out of 400 initial candidates only 20 were selected for the space programme, all of them fighter pilots, as no other person was thought to have the ability to fly alone and play the role of pilot, navigator and wireless communicator.

According to Viktor Gorbatko, a fellow cosmonaut who trained with him in 1960, Gagarin was a very popular person, liked by everyone, from superiors to subordinates and was clearly better than his colleagues in his mentality, attitude and ability.

The selected cosmonauts were all physically fit as a result of a rigorous training programme. Rules were very strict, for instance, three of the trainees lost their places because they were found drinking beer in public.

Gagarin's outstanding abilities during training impressed his superiors even at early stages of their programme. In one occasion, when the trainees met Sergey Korolyov, the founding father of the Soviet space programme, he picked Yuri Gagarin first for interview and then continued with the others in alphabetical order. A sign of his popularity among officials.

The authorities shortlisted the best 6 based on ability, and in further selection, they picked 2 main candidates, Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov. Finally, by collective decision, they selected Gagarin as the first person to go to space. Titov became the second human to orbit the planet, he stayed in orbit for little more than a day on 6 August 1961.

Yuri Gagarin wearing a spacesuit in the background as he prepares to depart on board a Vostok capsule, propelled into orbit by a Vostok rocket on 12 April 1961. RSA 2011.In the 60s none knew what to expect from living in space, they didn't know if a human would survive the immense pressures at launch or the extremely low pressure of vacuum of space or the burning heat of re-entry. Candidates were trained exhaustively to prepare them for any eventuality.

As part of their training they had to experience up to 12G in a centrifuge in Germany and resisted flying at an altitude of 15km in a chamber with just oxygen masks without space suit. These extreme tests were later removed from the training programme. Other tests included numerical and logical challenges to test their alertness at crucial times.

When Gagarin went to space he had the rank of Lieutenant and was a candidate to become a Captain on his return. His superiors decided to promote him to Major instead as an award for a successful mission.

Upon his return from space Gagarin became a celebrity in the Soviet Union and all over the world. The state used him as an ambassador of his country and a symbol of Russian supremacy in the battle for the first man in space, touring him throughout the planet.

His wellbeing became so important that he was not allowed to fly anymore and the state wanted to protect the superstar at all costs. A frustrating situation for any young fighter pilot.

After he became a commander his attitude did not change, he was still friendly with his colleagues. His rank escalated to deputy administrator of the Cosmonaut Training Centre, which meant he was not going to go to space again but he kept training as a fighter pilot.

50 Anniversary of Spaceflight and of Yuri Gagarin’s flight into orbit. RSA 2011.In March 1968 he was authorised to fly again but his first attempt had to be postponed due to bad weather. On 27 March he tested a MiG 15 jet rather than the MiG17 he was supposed to fly.

After completing his routine in the air, he reported that he was coming back to base. That was the last that was heard from him. His plane crashed on landing, turning him into a true legend.

No clear explanation resulted from the investigations of the tragedy. Planes at that time did not have recording devices like the “black box,” therefore the reason of his crash remains a mystery.

In the space competition of the time, America came second with Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr reaching space for 15 minutes on 5 May 1961; but it wasn’t until 1962 that John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, making him the third after Gagarin and Titov.


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev addresses the nation on Yuri Gagarin’s day as the celebrations commence in Moscow. RSA 2011.The 12th of April is widely celebrated in Russia; they commemorate Yuri Gagarin’s heroic achievement that made the nation the winner of the race for space.

In recent decades, the former rival super powers have improved their relationship and now that they work together in space exploration, this celebration has extended to the whole world.

Another space milestone is also celebrated on the same date. Coincidentally, 20 years later, in 1981, the first Space Shuttle Orbiter launched on the 12 April, starting a new era of humans living in space.


Yuri’s Night Logo. A world space party celebrated on 12 April 2011. Yuri’s Night 2011.Yuri’s Night is a global celebration of human space flight with Yuri Gagarin as a symbolic representative of that important day.

The organizers made a proposal at the United Nations’ Space Generation Advisory Council, when they met in Graz, Austria in September of 2000. The launch or this effort was in 2001.

As mentioned on their website, this celebration has been growing in popularity every year; from the 60 parties organised at the beginning, to the current 557 events in 75 countries on 7 continents on 2 worlds (including Second Life).

The main purpose of this movement is to promote the interest in space flight; and there are many other organisations that are trying to make space a common place.

The crew of the International Space Station wearing Yuri’s Night T-Shirts send congratulations to all those involved in promoting space exploration. NASA-TV 2011.

Even the crew of the International Space Station wore Yuri’s Night T-Shirts as they sent a message to the planet celebrating 50 years of human spaceflight. Astronaut Cady Coleman surprised everyone playing a flute duet with Ian Anderson, the famous flautist from the group Jethro Tull.

The team from also joined the global party by broadcasting live on that day. They showed Yuri’s night parties from all over the world.

Well done to everyone and Happy Yuri’s Night!

 Cariann and Ben Higginbotham, from the team of celebrate Yuri’s Night broadcasting events from all over the world. Spacevidcast 2011.


First Orbit’s Director Christopher Riley and the trajectory followed by Yuri Gagarin on his orbit around the Earth. FirstOrbit on YouTube 2011.The movie “First Orbit” was published on 12 April 2011, the 50th Anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historical flight into orbit.

Director Christopher Riley used original audio recordings from the Russian Space Agency and video from the International Space Station to show what Yuri Gagarin saw during the 108 minutes of his experience in space as he looked at the Earth from his spacecraft; an original description from the first human in space.

“We tried to match the orbit of the ISS to that of the original path followed by Gagarin in 1961.
His trajectory started early in the morning, at around 6:30, flying over the Pacific Ocean, parallel to the west coast of the United States, reaching the southern point of South America by 7:00 am.
After travelling over the Southern Atlantic Ocean, Gagarin reached the West Coast of Africa at around 7:20. His descent started at 7:37am, as he flew over Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.
Astronaut Paolo Nespoli shot the video from the ISS, while the station followed a similar trajectory.”

First Orbit – The Movie (duration 1:36hr):

Director: Christopher Riley,
Director of Photography: Astronaut Paolo Nespoli,
Film Editor: Stephen Slater,
Composer: Philip Sheppard, in association with Yuri Gagarin 50 and Yuri’s Night.


¤ “The Making Of First Orbit” (2011). FirstOrbit on YouTube. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 12 April 2011).
¤ “Yuri Gagarin” (2011). Wikipedia. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 12 April 2011).
¤ “Yuri Gagarin – A biography” (2011). Russia.ic. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 12 April 2011).
¤ “Yuri’s Night – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight” (2011). Yuri’s Night. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 12 April 2011).


¤ All images edited by ren@rt. Source: NASA, Yuri’s Night, Spacevidcast.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Today, 12 April 2011 was the 30th Anniversary of the launch of STS-1 in 1981, an event that marked the beginning of the Space Shuttle Programme.

Space Shuttle’s 30th Anniversary Commemoration and people at Kennedy Space Centre forming a human shape of the Shuttle, 12 April 2011.The speakers at the ceremony on the grounds of Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, expressed their views on the importance of this programme in space exploration. The Space Shuttle Programme was instrumental in putting together the International Space Station.

More importantly, this is proof that countries that were once antagonistic have found a way to work together and build something that benefits humankind.

Although the celebration recognised the excellence of the Shuttle Orbiters as space vehicles, their making was a difficult path full of ground breaking discoveries and devastating tragedies.

Behind it all the ceremony celebrated the hundreds of people that work together as a team, giving the best of themselves and believing that the success of the mission and the safety of those going to space lies on their hands.

The speakers at the event included :

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who in an emotional speech, announced where the Shuttle Orbiters will go after retirement. He asked the four institutions to take good care of the vehicles and that they mean so much to so many people who were proud of their achievements.

Director of NASA Kennedy Space Centre Robert Cabana conducted the ceremony and thanked everyone for their contribution as the spacecraft are the result of efficient team work.

Director of Flight Crew Operations Janet Kavandi mentioned how much they will miss the Orbiters and what they meant to all those who worked on their development for so many years.

Endevour Vehicle Manager Michael Parrish talked about the point of view of the support crew, so important for the success of the missions.

 NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Director of NASA Kennedy Space Centre Robert Cabana, 12 April 2011.  Director of Flight Crew Operations Janet Kavandi and Endevour Vehicle Manager Michael Parrish, 12 April 2011.

They also showed the video "The Space Shuttle" narrated by actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the television series Star Trek.

The spacecraft from the television series was the inspiration for a change of name of the first Shuttle from “Constitution” to “Enterprise.”

The cast of Star Trek at the roll-out of Enterprise and video "The Space Shuttle"

Cast of the Television series Star Trek at the roll-out of Shuttle Enterprise, which name was changed from Constitution by popular request, NASA 1976.

Where will the Shuttle Orbiters go after their last flights?

  • Atlantis – stays at Kennedy Space Centre, Florida
  • Endevour – goes to The California Science Center, Los Angeles
  • Discovery – goes to Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Virginia
  • Enterprise – goes to Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, New York

Atlantis – stays at Kennedy Space Centre. Endevour – goes to The California Science Center, Los Angeles, 12 April 2011.  Discovery – goes to Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Virginia. Enterprise – goes to Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, New York, 6 April 2011.

The crew of the International Space Station, joined the celebrations highlighting the importance of the shuttle orbiters in building the station, one of the best pieces of engineering in the world, a place that they call home for up to half a year per mission.

People living in space was science-fiction at the start of the space programme, now it is a reality. These are the first steps of space exploration. A new space age is about to begin and today’s dreams will become a reality sooner than we all suspect.

The crew from ISS join the celebrations

The crew of ISS join the celebrations of 30 year of the Space Shuttle Programme, 12 April 2011.


¤ “Enterprise (Shuttle Orbiter)” (2011). The Internet Encyclopedia of Science. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 12 April 2011).
¤ “NASA Television” (2011). NASA. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 12 April 2011).


¤ All images edited by ren@rt. Source: NASA.

Thursday, 7 April 2011


Expedition 27 docked successfully to the International Space Station (ISS) two days after launching from Baikonur, Kazakhstan aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft on 4 April 2011.

Expedition 27 to ISS: cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko (Commander of Mission) and Alexander Samokutyaev (Soyuz Commander), and NASA astronaut Ron Garan (Flight Engineer), 4 April 2011.The bi-national expedition formed by Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko (Commander of Mission) and Alexander Samokutyaev (Soyuz Commander), and NASA astronaut Ron Garan (Flight Engineer) left the Earth to join their three colleagues from Expedition 26, currently living and working in the space station.

During their preparation days at Baikonur, the astronaut and the two cosmonauts gave interviews to the press, who were mostly interested in their opinions of the upcoming celebration of 50 years of human space flight.

Among the many responses, astronaut Garan mentioned that his ancestors emigrated from Russia to America and that in a way, launching from the place where it all started was a comeback of special significance for him and his family. He was particularly happy to live in a time when nations found a way to work side by side for the benefit of humanity.

The crew of Expedition 27 proudly accepted the responsibility and pressure of representing space exploration in such a momentous occasion. They will be at the space station on 12 April, the day the world celebrates Yuri Gagarin’s flight that made him the first human in space.

Astronaut Ron Garan signs the Door of Fame at Baikonur Cosmodrom, Russia, 4 April 2011.Gagarin departed from the same launch pad 50 years ago, when the two nations, United States and Russia, were engaged in an aggressive competition to gain supremacy of space and become the leader by sending the first human to orbit.

Russia proved its commitment as a nation and sent not only one but the first 2 humans into orbit before the United States were able to put an astronaut into orbit.

The Russian government used this triumph as an instrument of public relations. They soon turned Yuri Gagarin into a mythical figure and showed him off as a trophy all over the world. He was revered for becoming the personification of hope to a nation that was looking for a hero. His name is still celebrated more than that of any politician or other personality in modern times.

As a result of this race, the space program went into over-drive and 8 years later, in 1969, the first American stood on the moon.


Launch of Soyuz TMA-21 from Baikonur Cosmodrom, 4 April 2011.

At Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Russian space centre, the astronauts followed their pre-flight routine for a few days before the flight. Among other local traditions, they left their autographs on the cosmonaut’s “Door of fame.”

On 4 March 2011 (5 March in Russia), the crew changed into their space suits and were driven to the launch pad in the Russian space van. Each astronaut was escorted out of the main building in the Russian tradition, locking arms with an official on each side.

After a short walk, at the base of the launch platform, they stood in line for a military salute to the ground commander. Next, they entered the lift to reach the entrance of the capsule and then were helped into their seats on-board the Soyuz.

Despite having new more comfortable seats to accommodate taller passengers, the capsule has a very tight fit with every available space used for cargo and instruments.

The launch went flawlessly under the control of the experts at the Cosmodrome. After all they have more than half a century of experience launching rockets.

At an altitude of 45 km, the first stage of the single engine rocket separated from the spacecraft, which continued its ascent at a speed of 5400 km/hr. Images from inside the capsule showed that everything went according to plan.

When the crew reached 168 km of altitude the second stage separated, leaving the third stage to propel the vehicle for an extra 4 minutes, accelerating to 21,700 km/hr.

Toy dog given to Commander Alexander Samokutyaev by his daughter was used as a marker of weightlessness when the expedition reached orbit, 4 April 2011.A toy dog given to Commander Alexander Samokutyaev by his daughter was used as a marker of weightlessness. It started to float at 9minutes into the flight, shortly after the separation of the third stage, which delivering the Soyuz TMA-21 into orbit. At that point, Mission control in Moscow took over control of the flight.

Safely orbiting at an altitude of 230 km above sea level, the astronauts deployed the antennae and solar arrays. In the following two days, their altitude was gradually increased getting them closer to the International Space Station.

Baikonur Cosmodrome recently opened its doors to the public. Anyone can visit their facilities and watch a launch of a rocket from a distance of 2 km, a lot closer than at Kennedy Space Centre. Ticket prices range from £2,700 to £3,000 and can be purchased in advance from


After 2 days of orbital flight, the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft systematically increased speed and altitude to reach the International Space Station, which is orbiting our planet between 278 and 460 km of altitude at a speed of 27,743 km/hr.

Soyuz TMA-21 approaches to dock to ISS, animation, 6 April 2011.Once their speeds were matched, the approach was carefully monitored. The first part controlled by on-board computers and the final metres under the control of pilot Alexander Samokutyaev.

Docking was confirmed at 3:09am Moscow time on 7 April 2011 (or 23:09hr UTC on 6 April 2011), while ISS was flying over the Chilean Andes.

It took 3 hours for the crew to secure the spacecraft, checking for leakages on both sides while the pressure was gradually equalized to enable the new arrivals to enter the ISS.

Finally, hatches were opened at 2:13 UCT (3:13 UK time) as the ISS was flying at 354 km above the coast of New Zealand. Shortly after, the crews of Expedition 27 and 26 met and congratulated one another for a successful docking.

All the astronauts at the Space Station gathered in the Japanese module for a live conference with Mission Control in Korolev, near Moscow. The new arrivals received congratulations from officials and then had the opportunity to talk to their families.

The crew of Expeditions 26 and 27 together at ISS, 6 April 2011. Mission Control Centre in Korolev, near Moscow, 6 April 2011.

With the most vulnerable part of their mission complete, the astronauts took a well-deserved rest and prepared to begin their work at the station the next day.


Expedition 26, formed by Dmitry Kondratyev, Paolo Nespoli and Catherine Coleman will complete their stay at the station in May and return to Earth on-board the Soyuz TMA20, currently docked to ISS.

The arrival of Expedition 28 is scheduled for June, it will be formed by the following astronauts: Satoshi Furukawa (Flight Engineer, Japan), Sergei Volkov (Soyuz Commander, Russia) and Michael Fossum (Flight Engineer, USA).

Expedition 28 to ISS, scheduled to fly in June 2011, 6 April 2011.


¤ ‘Baikonur Cosmodrome Space Launches - Manned and Cargo Mission Observation Tours’ (2011). Sky and Space Travel. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 06 April 2011).
¤ ‘International Space Station’ (2011). Wikipedia. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 06 April 2011).
¤ “NASA Television” (2011). NASA. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 06 April 2011).


¤ All images edited by ren@rt. Source: NASA.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


The International Space Station (ISS) crew prepared for collision with a particle of Chinese debris in space.

International Space Station - Collision Red Alert, 5 April 2011.On 5 April 2011, a particle was detected and found to be in collision course towards ISS.

The 1.5cm in diameter particle (approximately the size of a bullet), identified as of Chinese origin (debris from a satellite) was detected approaching at high speed, able to cause serious damage should it hit the station.

A red alert was issued because the particle was believed to get as close as 6 km to the Space Station, well within its 25km security zone.

Further tracking form the ballistics team sent good news to the crew when they changed the red alert to green as they calculated the trajectory and found it to be secure.

Impact procedures

When objects are detected in time, the crew of the station can take measures to manoeuvre and avoid contact, a procedure known as Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre (DAM). But when objects are small they may avoid detection until it is too late to change course, therefore, when found late, a red alert is issued.

When the object is expected to enter the security space, all parties involved are alerted and the crew prepares for collision. The procedure is that they secure all areas of the station, close hatches, change into spacesuits and take shelter in the Soyuz module at the centre of the station. Upon evacuation the Soyuz is ready to detached and return to earth.

To close or not to close

There was a controversy about closing the hatch of the Soyuz in preparation for impact. The Russian control centre recommended to be “prepared” to close, while NASA preference was to actually close the hatch. The latter recommendation was finally adopted. The concern regarded a potential of hatch failure, which would prevent re-entry into the ISS, but no Russian data of hatch failure is available to date.

An impact to the station – So what?

Because ISS orbits the earth 16 times a day (an orbit every 90 minutes), it travels at a speed of 7 km per second (approximately 25,000 km/hr). Even a static object would impact the station at that speed. Objects travelling in opposite direction would add their speed to that of the station, therefore any object is potentially a high speed projectile that can cause major damage depending where it hits.

The walls of the station are designed with 3 layers, an inner shell that contains the pressurized interior (a pressure of 101.3 kPa (14.7 psi) similar to sea level), an insulation middle layer, and and outer armour plating strong enough to resist impact of small particles.

But what is out there? Isn’t space empty?

Lab example of Damage to Soyuz module.Expedition 18, from April 2009.After more than 50 years of space exploration there is plenty of rubbish out there, from entire spent rocket stages and defunct satellites, to explosion fragments, paint flakes, slag from solid rocket motors, coolant released by RORSAT nuclear powered satellites, small needles, and many other objects in addition to natural micrometeoroids.

Danger is proportional to the size and speed of a particle, therefore tracking particles is a necessity. Space Command (STRATCOM = U.S. Strategic Command) tracks particles larger than 10cm in size. A 10cm piece of debris would create, at minimum, a 20cm hole in the ISS pressure shell, which may also result in 2 penetration points (one in, one out). A 10cm penetration causes damage that exceeds module critical crack limit and will result in catastrophic loss of that module.

Decompression scenario

The following damage/effect scenario was outline by the US Navy & Marine Corps Public Health Center, Aerospace Medicine Literature.

  • Pressure (Shock) Wave: The explosive release of the kinetic energy of a tracked object impacting ISS may incapacitate crew.
  • Fog: Rapid pressure drop results in H2O condensation that may affect visibility.
  • Loud Bang: May rupture eardrums and incapacitate the crew even further.
  • Light Flash: May produce temporary partial loss of vision.
  • Changes to Internal Environment status during the impact: As the Atmospheric Pressure starts to drop, the crew begin to suffer from “some adverse physiological effects, but they are unnoticeable.” This is followed by “Impaired thinking and attention and reduced coordination.”
  • At 90 percent O2 Blood Saturation, the crew would suffer “Abnormal fatigue upon exertion. Emotionally upset. Faulty coordination. Poor judgment,” followed by “Very poor judgment and coordination. Impaired respiration that may cause permanent heart damage. Nausea and vomiting.
  • The final stages are “Inability to perform vigorous movement. Loss of consciousness. Convulsions. Death.

Clearly, particles have to be taken seriously. So far ISS has entered in Red Alert twice on 6 April 2003 and 13 March 2009. This is the third Red Alert in its history.

Luckily, mission control called off the "shelter in Soyouz" operation before the astronauts completed the emergency procedures. They were happy to hear the good news and said: "That means we don't get to camp out tonight? ... Well, we will bring pizza next time."


¤ ‘International Space Station’ (2011). Wikipedia. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 05 April 2011).
¤ ‘ISS Module Soyuz TMA-12’ (No Date). Dark Government. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 05 April 2011).
¤ ‘Space Debris No Threat to Station.’ (2011) NASA. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 05 April 2011).
¤ ‘Soyuz TMA-16 launches for journey to ISS – Safe Haven evaluations’. (2009). NASA Spaceflight. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 05 April 2011).
¤ ‘STS-111 International Space Station’ (No Date). NASA. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 05 April 2011).


¤ All images edited by ren@rt. Source: NASA.

Saturday, 2 April 2011


A new era is about to start ... Space travel for everyone!

Virgin Galactic, pioneering commercial sub-orbital space flight. Virgin, 2011.Tickets to experience the wonders of spaceflight are already being reserved.

After the success the international space exploration programme, a number of private companies have recognized the lucrative potential of space travel. Some of them have taken this seriously and are leading the path to a new form of travel soon to become a reality.

One of the pioneering companies is Virgin Group Limited, headed by Sr. Richard Branson, who in 2008 acquired the rights to “Spaceship One,” an award winning spacecraft designed in 2004 by American company Scale Composites, owned by the famous aerospace engineer Elbert Leander "Burt" Rutan.

Virgin’s new improved version of the aircraft is currently being constructed by Scaled Composites at their headquarters in the Mojave desert, north of Los Angeles. They are working on the production of 2 carrier planes and 5 spacecraft.

The Virgin Galactic Spaceship is made of carbon composite, a light, compact and strong modern material. It is capable of carrying 6 passengers and a crew of 2 pilots. It has a rocket engine that will give it the last push into space after being released from its mothership at an altitude of 15.5 km.

Stages of Sub-Orbital spaceflight: Mothership deployment at 15km, Powerflight to space, Float at 110 km, Re-entry and glide to SpacePort. Virgin 2011. The prediction of a space flight experience is as follows:

  • Flights depart from Spaceport America in the Mojave desert, New Mexico, a purpose-built installation designed by Norman Foster.
  • Motherships like the “VSS-Enterprise,” carry a spacecraft under its central bridge and take the spacecraft up to an altitude of over 15 km and to a speed of Mach 4, at which point they separate and the small vehicle goes into Powerflight.
  • In every flight the passengers spend 5 minutes experiencing weightlessness in space at an altitude of 110 km, after which the spaceship re-enters our atmosphere at relatively low speeds to avoid high temperatures produced by friction.
  • Slowing down at re-entry is the goal of the new design of the spacecraft’s wings. They fold upwards to maximise drag and together with the low weight of the vehicle, reduce the speed of flight to the extent of not requiring a heat shield.
  • On its return home, the spacecraft glides back to the Mojave Spaceport, landing like a regular plane in one of the runways.

With 400 reservations on their list, each paying initially 10% of the ticket price of US$200,000; Virgin Galactic has secured part of the capital to start the business. Their projections of having up to 3 flights a day, each carrying 6 passengers will give you an idea of the scale of sales they expect to have.


After successful test flights of the carrier plane and the spacecraft, the company is waiting for the completion of the development of the rocket engine to test the final ascent into space.

Spaceship test-pilot Peter Siebold recognises that Sub-orbital space flight is likely to be the stepping stone to Orbital space flight.

Their aim is to start sub-orbital flights as early as 2013.

Richard Branson talks to CNN about the first landing of the spacecraft in June 2011

Virgin Galactic, test flight. Virgin, 17june 2011.


¤ Amos, J. (2010). ‘Virgin Galactic's spaceship makes solo flight.’ BBC. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 31 March 2011). ¤ ‘Burt Rutan’ (2010). Wikipedia. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 01 April 2011). ¤ Fire, L. (2008). ‘Richard Branson Unveils Space Tourism Craft Today.’ The Fire Wire. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 31 March 2011). ¤ Scott, R. (2011). ‘Space tourism closer as Virgin Galactic nears lift off.’ BBC. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 31 March 2011). ¤ Virgin Airlines (2011). Virgin Airlines. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 01 April 2011). ¤ ‘Virgin Galactic Greenlighted by US’ (2011). Super Luminous Velocity. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 01 April 2011).


¤ All images edited by ren@rt. Source: BBC and Virgin.