Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is set to launch its SpaceShipTwo test flight as early as Dec. 13, bringing the company’s spacecraft all the way to space – depending on what your definition of space is.
According to The Washington Post, the company will be firing its rocket motor to an expected altitude of 50 miles, a measurement that the company is considering as the “edge of space.”
But not everyone is in agreement as to where the “edge of space” actually begins. According to Geekwire, the traditionally agreed-upon boundary between space and the Earth’s atmosphere, also known as the Karman Line, is set at 100 kilometers (or 62 miles), which leaves the anticipated flight just short of its goal.
However, the debate on where the line is has been brewing recently due to new research by astronomer and satellite expert Jonathan McDowell at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Geekwire reported. According to McDowell, the line could be as low as 80 kilometers (or 50 miles). Still, finding this line continues to be tricky business. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) released a statement in November saying it will be considering the new research in the coming year.
In the meantime, Virgin Galactic will be continuing on its quest for viable commercial spaceflights. The company will be conducting this test of the SpaceShipTwo at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, according to Space News. This will be the fourth powered test flight that the company has conducted for the spacecraft.
“Overall the goal of this flight is to fly higher and faster than previous flights. We plan to burn the rocket motor for longer than we ever have in flight before, but not to its full duration,” reps for the company said in a statement. “At the end stages of the rocket burn in the thin air of the mesosphere and with the speeds that we expect to achieve, additional altitude is added rapidly. That results in new and important data points, particularly relating to supersonic handling qualities and thermal dynamics, both of which we will be watching closely in the cockpit and on the ground in Mission Control.”
The company expects the spacecraft’s pilots to experience “an extended period of micro-gravity” as the craft reaches its altitude goal.
Even though the spacecraft is not flying with passengers yet, more than 600 people have signed up for future trips at a whopping $250,000 per ticket, The Washington Post reported.
Reps for the company admitted in its statement that there is still a lot of work to be done before actual commercial flights are possible to launch. “Whether we complete all our objectives during the next flight or need to wait a little longer, we remain committed to completing the final stages of this extraordinary flight test program as quickly, but more importantly as safely, as possible.”