I just had to post this up:
That, my fellow space nuts, is White Knight Two (VMS Eve) carrying the very first SpaceShipTwo (VSS Enterprise) on its maiden voyage into the sky. The last time we saw something this momentous it was almost 7 years ago when the very first White Knight was carrying the first private sub-orbital vehicle SpaceShipOne into the sky. It’s been a long time coming and I’m sure that everyone at Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic are over the moon that they can write down this first 3 hour test flight as a success.
The media has lit up in response to seeing the iconic pair up in the air and with good reason, it signals the dawn of a new era for those who need (or want) cheap access to space. I’m not just talking about those of us who are after those 5 minutes of weightlessness and the spectacular view of our precious blue marble. No there’s another class of people who are excited about the prospect of cheap space access, scientists:
But this next generation of rockets from Virgin Galactic (Richard Branson’s effort with Space Ship 2, a model of which is pictured above), Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com), and others will reach a height making a lot of this science possible. The region up to 100 km is too high to reach by balloon, and too low for orbital rockets, which is why it’s been dubbed “the ignorosphere”. But it has its uses…
Observations of the Sun, for example, may not need much time to do because (you may have noticed) the Sun is pretty bright, so a three or four minute flight is enough to get some good data. The way incoming energy from the Sun couples with the Earth’s atmosphere is not hugely well understood, and a lot of it happens in this region high above the planet’s surface. Effects of low gravity on the human body can be tested, as well as on plants and other biological systems.
In fact, enough science can be done on these trips that the conference itself brought in 250 people interested in the topic. I was surprised at how many people came, as were the conference planners themselves: they were expecting half that many.
In another post he also links to a video done by 2 scientists who are amongst those few who have already booked tickets on board SpaceShipTwo who explain exactly why this is such a big deal:
When I read those articles I was already convinced that cheap access to space was a good thing. Seeing SpaceShipTwo being carried up into the wild blue yonder just brought that all home and made me realise that we’re so close to having something that less than a decade ago was considered fantasy. There’s still many milestones to go before we get there but the clock is ticking down to the day when the first paid sub-orbital flights begin. After that it’s only a matter of time before we make the jump to orbital, and then the frontiers beyond.