Friday, May 03, 2013

The Future Getting Nearer

Following on the heels of the Antares launch from the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast, several other new developments point to an accelerating pace toward a new space age where space travel becomes more common and more a part of the everyday economy.

The most prominent was Monday's successful first powered flight test of SpaceShipTwo by Virgin Galactic. The test integrated the performance of the spacecraft with its hybrid rocket engine and paves the way to succeeding flights where the engine will burn longer, taking the spacecraft higher. Virgin Galactic expects the flights will reach the altitude defined internationally as the edge of space (100km/62.5mi) by the end of the year. Once the test program is complete, the company plans to begin commercial flights of tourists and researchers early next year. Here is a video of highlights of the flight with commentary by Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson.

In a couple of other developments, there was a recent flight extending the performance of SpaceX's Grasshopper test vehicle, which is an experimental rocket being tested to develop the capability for a reusable booster for carrying payloads into orbit. Finally, on Wednesday, the U.S. Air Force performed the final test of the X51A hypersonic vehicle succesfully. This type of propulsion could have some interesting military, civil and commercial applications including possibly faster intercontinental travel and another way to reach orbit.