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SpaceShipTwo Sets a New Altitude Record 117

Posted by samzenpus
from the space-time dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reached an altitude of 71,000 feet, beating out its previous record of 69,000 feet. From the article: 'This time around, Virgin Galactic and Mojave-based Scaled Composites, the plane's builder, tested a new reflective coating on the rocket plane's tail booms. The flight also marked the first tryout for a thruster system that's designed to keep the plane on course when it's above the atmosphere. Virgin Galactic said all of the test objectives were met.'"
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SpaceShipTwo Sets a New Altitude Record

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  • New Altitude record? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rossdee (243626) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @03:18PM (#45933223)

    a mere 71,000 ft?
    Blackbirds flew hiher than that over 40 year ago

    • Hell, the Voyager spacecraft flew higher!

    • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @03:21PM (#45933237)

      It's "record for this particular aircraft", nothing to do with a plane flying about at 85,000ft 48 years ago.

      • So, more of an accomplishment than a record then...

        Why do people overrate things these days?

        • by Teancum (67324)

          No doubt the OP could be written a little more clear that this is an airframe record as opposed to an all-time aeronautical record (which are held by the Voyager 2 for any human artifact and the Apollo 13 crew for any piloted vehicle for altitude or distance from the Earth). None the less, it is showing regular progress and that Virgin Galactic, or more specifically The Spaceship Company (really, the name of the company making these vehicles) is pushing the envelope on its development.

          The goals of this par

    • by jovius (974690)

      100km is the target altitude once the operations are on going. That's actually where they already went with the previous version SpaceShipOne to win the Ansari X-Prize. They seem to be well on their track to become a trusted commercial operator.

      • by icebike (68054)

        The question though, is 100km useful? That isn't even a third of the way to the ISS.

        • by AC-x (735297)

          If it attracts enough rich thrill-seekers' money to fund further private space ventures then I guess so?

    • I prefer to compare it with the altitude record for sailplanes, which is 15445 meters (50,671 ft). Of course, pressure drops off exponentially with increase in altitude, but it's still not all that much higher.
    • by tsa (15680)

      Ft? I thought nerds thought in SI units.

  • Delays (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 12, 2014 @03:26PM (#45933269)

    There have been a few years of delays (IIRC 5) associated with issues surrounding the hybrid rocket motor from SpaceDev. Including three deaths.

    The hybrid firm they originally hired, eAc was apparently not the low bidder for production. Years of delays resulted. as SD tried to replicate or replace tech developed by eAc and used for the original test firings.

    The combustion instability associated with that N2O-HTPB propellant combination is hard on passengers, and has been solved by another firm who also originally bid on SS1 and now SS2.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_rocket

    It's time for VG to move on to a more viable hybrid supplier, capable of mass-producing the motors they need for 200+ flights.

    I believe the price also has changed from $200k to $250k now.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @03:47PM (#45933377)
    Better to be safe, than never.
  • by Bazouel (105242) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @03:50PM (#45933397)

    71,000 feet = 21640.8 meters

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by excelsior_gr (969383)

      Only that aircraft altitude is measured across the globe in feet, regardless of the unit system valid in each country.

      • Tell this to the sailplaines/gliders in Europe.
      • Not completely true. Fly on a european airplane[1] and when you turn on the channel that shows where the plane is going, how fast it is going, and how high, there will generally be a) the information in english b) the information in the native language of the airline, marked in m, kph, etc.

        [1] Yes not for all countries true as Ireland and the UK are imperial

        • Completely true, if you go to a real source and not the passenger infotainment display. Tune in air traffic control, and there will generally be a) everything spoken in English b) altitude given in feet c) velocity given in knots.

        • by Radak (126696)

          That is for passenger convenience/understanding. The pilots are talking to ATC in feet and in English, no matter where they are in the world. I prefer metric for almost everything, but like it or not, this is an accepted side effect of the United States pioneering commercial airplane traffic.

          Also, it's actually somewhat convenient because 1000 foot vertical separation for flights in opposing directions is a good distance. There's no metric equivalent that's as easy to compute, so this is a rare example o

          • by AC-x (735297)

            Also, it's actually somewhat convenient because 1000 foot vertical separation for flights in opposing directions is a good distance. There's no metric equivalent that's as easy to compute, so this is a rare example of Imperial actually creating easier math instead of harder.

            Interesting point, 300m is a slightly awkward value, I wonder if 250m (~820 feet) would be enough separation with today's more accurate autopilots etc.?

            • by Radak (126696)

              Interesting point, 300m is a slightly awkward value, I wonder if 250m (~820 feet) would be enough separation with today's more accurate autopilots etc.?

              It probably would, but it's still easier to work with muliples of 10. That is, after all, the entire idea behind the metric system. It just happens to work well in this application using Imperial.

              It's a bit academic, since we're pretty clearly stuck with what we've got, and it (usually) works. :) Changing over would be a nightmare. I still wonder how Sweden managed to switch from driving on the left to driving on the right overnight without complete chaos. Okay, maybe it wasn't totally smooth [hemmings.com].

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That must explain why non-commercial aviation space restrictions in Australia and New Zealand are measured in meters...

        Flight Levels in China and Russia are also specified in meters.

        Apparently you're full of shit, who'd have thunk it on Slashdot...

        • by Radak (126696)

          Flight Levels in China and Russia are also specified in meters.

          Incorrect. In China, they do not use the term "Flight Level", but merely specify an altitude in meters. In Russia, they use foot-based Flight Levels as of 2011. See here [wikipedia.org].

          Apparently you're full of shit, who'd have thunk it on Slashdot...

          You were saying something?

      • by Nivag064 (904744)

        The height in metres is more useful - as almost everyone knows metres, and feet is an archaic measurement that is fading away (except where there is an American influence).

        I was brought up in the Imperial system of feet & pounds etc. in England - now, I never use the Imperial system, as metric is far easier to deal with and is what everyone around me uses.

        • by dfsmith (960400)

          ...and is what everyone around me uses.

          Which is why feet get used here in the US. (From another person who was brought up in England.)

          • by Nivag064 (904744)

            Actually I was keen on metric before New Zealand formally adopted it.

            The irony is that it was an American text book (on Physics) that fully converted me to the Metric Fold - at school in Form 6 (now year 12)! About 48 years ago.

      • The audience of this site is not airplane pilots. Feet don't make sense for half the visitors on this site.
        Also, screw the airline industry and their nonstandard units of measurement.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      Not to where this vehicle is going. That F-15 was pretty much limited by physics and its design to the altitude record (again the airframe record and not really even impressive compared to other vehicles at the time other than perhaps impressive compared to other fighter planes.... the record they were trying to make).

      Better altitude records were met with the X-15 [youtube.com] a decade earlier, and even those records for vehicles launched from a runway, but none the less something much more worthy of comparison. On th

      • by Shadowmist (57488)

        Not to where this vehicle is going. That F-15 was pretty much limited by physics and its design to the altitude record (again the airframe record and not really even impressive compared to other vehicles at the time other than perhaps impressive compared to other fighter planes.... the record they were trying to make).

        Better altitude records were met with the X-15 [youtube.com] a decade earlier, and even those records for vehicles launched from a runway, but none the less something much more worthy of comparison. On the other hand, Spaceship One [youtube.com], currently on display in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, was able to exceed the altitude records of even the X-15 and is the vehicle that is merely being upgraded and designed to hold passengers as well.... something that F-15 never could do.

        And presumably much safer, considering that the careers of two of the the original 3 X-15's ended in crashes. One a relatively minor crash that the ship was able to be rebuilt to a new configuration from, and another which killed the pilot when the rocket plane disintegrated at 60,000 feet. The two surviving planes remain on display to this day.

  • So many promises (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dorpus (636554) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @04:07PM (#45933467)

    In 2024, will they still be selling tickets for space flights that will "start" next year?

  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @04:08PM (#45933471)

    The original Spaceship One went something like five or six times higher, so I presume these are just "low altitude" test flights before they try for "space".

    It's notable as continued progress in the development and testing of the Spaceship Two vehicle and system, not for its altitude.

    Use of the word "record" in the summary is not particularly helpful.

    G.

    • by Radak (126696)

      The original Spaceship One went something like five or six times higher, so I presume these are just "low altitude" test flights before they try for "space".

      You are correct. They're (wisely, I think) taking baby steps to get there, observing the performance of the engine and the vehicle with each increment and making any necessary enhancements and improvements based on returned data. The most recent test was a 20 second engine burn. IIRC, the eventual goal prior to passenger flights is a 90 second burn, so it'll be going much, much higher.

  • Airwolf could do that in the 1980s and it's a helicopter

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