How the space rocket ‘Unity’ was built
space rocket ‘Unity: An airplane – so that you can travel in space, after flying for 60 or 100 miles above the ground for a few hours – that airplane – just like a normal airplane – will land at an airport on Earth. You can get a space travel experience by buying this special rocket-plane ticket just like a normal flight. Decades after decades, this dream has haunted some millionaires and scientists.
That dream is now coming true. A few days ago, British businessman Sir Richard Branson flew his rocket-propelled grenade to the edge of space for the first time.
A few others, like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, are conducting research and experiments to build similar spacecraft.
‘I’ll leave it at that
That was in the early 1990s. World-renowned aeronautical engineer Bert Rutan threw himself into a challenge. The challenge is to build a spaceplane. Aircraft are capable of space travel. You can say, rocket-aircraft. “It simply came to our notice then. I will do it, I will leave it, ”Rutan said in 2004, recalling a decade ago.
One of the goals behind the discovery was to open up space travel for “ordinary people” – people who are not “astronauts”. “For the last 25 years, it has seemed to me that the children who dream that one day they will go into space, see the earth from space, – I think of myself as a child – but their chances of that dream are dwindling.”
Bert Rutan thought that the experience of this journey in space must be like flying in an airplane. The way astronauts usually go into space by launching a rocket and return to Earth by parachute – that experience would be much more adventurous or risky for ordinary people, it seemed to him.
With this in mind, Bert Rutan began building a spaceplane. The first vehicle he built was called SpaceShipOne. In the 1950s, test pilots flew a type of test aircraft called the X-15, which could fly at much higher altitudes. Rutan was inspired by that.
Finally, on June 21, 2004, for the first time, his first privately funded spacecraft reached space – a historic milestone. The eight-and-a-half-meter-long spacecraft, called SpaceShipOne, began its flight from a runway in the Mojave Desert, California. The vehicle was parked under a plane called the White Knight.
After rising 14 kilometers above the ground, the spaceship became detached from the mothership. Immediately his rocket engine ignited. The only test pilot in the spaceship was Mike Melville. Spaceship One then began to ascend steeply like a rocket and eventually reached an altitude of 100 kilometers above the earth’s surface – which is officially considered the boundary of space.
Melville, the pilot inside the vehicle, felt weightless before returning to Earth’s atmosphere.
On the way back, the spaceship changed its shape – just as planned. The goal was to increase the resistance of the spacecraft to the friction of the air – called “drag” in aviator terminology – on the one hand and to keep the vehicle stationary on the other. This is called the feathering system.
SpaceShipOne then successfully operated a few more flights. The vehicle also received the X-Award, founded by entrepreneur Pete Diamonds for building a space tourism industry.
Space travel project and Richard Branson, Named SpaceShipOne, the vehicle was praised by many. One of them was Sir Richard Branson, a British businessman who founded the Virgin Group. He had been monitoring the project for a long time. Richard Branson decided to invest heavily in spacecraft and its technology.
In September 2004, he announced that he would launch a commercial flight into space using a spacecraft-style vehicle. At a news conference in London, Richard Branson said the buyer would have to pay 200,000 to get a seat on his new “Virgin Galactic Spaceline”.
He also showed a model of the Virgin spaceship.
With Bert Rutan on the sidelines, Branson said thousands of astronauts will be created in the coming years who will be able to fulfill their dream of enjoying the view of our Earth from above, the stars in space, and the feeling of weightlessness.
Shortly after that announcement, Bert Rutan and Richard Branson formed a company called The Spaceship Company – which would own the technology used in the Virgin Galactic space tourism business – to be created by Rutan’s Scaled Composites.
What is a sub-orbital flight?
Virgin’s first astronaut tour was in 2006. But Richard Branson wanted each flight to have six tourists and two pilots. The voyage will be sub-orbital, meaning the plane will rise to a height of about 100 kilometers – where the Earth’s atmosphere ends and space begins.
There the passengers of the plane will feel weightless for a few minutes and then it will return to Earth.
Scientifically speaking, if a spacecraft were to fly at a speed of 18,500 miles per hour or more, it would be able to stay in space by overcoming the pull of gravity and continue to revolve around the earth in an orbit.
And if its speed is less than this – then it will touch the limits of space and return to the earth by gravity – just like when a ball is thrown into the sky, after rising to a height, it comes down again. This is called sub-orbital.
SpaceShipOne needs to be enlarged in size but now there are some new challenges facing the builders. Virgin’s rocket ship has to be bigger to make a suitable vehicle for eight riders. Not only that, but the aircraft carrying it also needs to change.
It will have to be built on a more powerful rocket motor that will be able to take this vehicle to the edge of space. Over the next few years, Richard Branson spoke to reporters several times about what the spaceship’s cabin would look like, what the windows would look like, and how the Earth and the stars would be seen.
He explained that ticket-buying passengers would be able to unbuckle their seatbelts, they would be able to spin around in almost zero-gravity, and so on. But in 2008 a disaster happened. An explosion during a rocket motor test on a spaceship killed three Scaled Composite workers and injured several others.
Then another company called Sierra Nevada Corporation was given the responsibility of making the motor. This time the rocket motor was made using a rubber-based fuel called HTPB and liquid nitrous oxide. It is called a hybrid rocket motor.
The first spacecraft to be named was VSS Enterprise, which began testing in 2010. After many experiments, the first powerful flight of VSS Enterprise took place in April 2013.
The pilots were Mark Stockie and Mike Elsbury. The vehicle was able to fly faster than sound in the Mojave desert sky.
But Virgin Galactic could not be satisfied with the vibrations of the rocket caused by this engine. So in 2014, Virgin ended its relationship with the Sierra Nevada and took over the task of building the rocket. They started using a different type of fuel called thermoplastic polyamide.
In October 2014, VSS Enterprise launched its 55th test flight – aimed at testing new fuels.
But just 11 seconds after it detached from the carrier, the VSS Enterprise collapsed, killing co-pilot Mike Elsberry. Pilot Pete Sybald fell to the ground in a parachute attached to his seat in an unconscious state and survived despite being seriously injured.
After an investigation, it was found that the technology used by the vehicle called Feder to reduce the speed of the vehicle coming down to the ground became active long ago and the vehicle broke down. Despite this tragic accident, the program did not stop.
Virgin Galactic’s second space-plane was launched in February 2016. It was called VSS Unity – named after the British scientist Stephen Hawking. After a few test flights, Unity reached the end of space for the first time on December 13, 2016. It rose to an altitude of 60 kilometers above sea level at that time – which some organizations consider being space.
Finally, on July 11, 2021, Sir Richard Branson himself embarked on his VSS unit. The flight took off at an altitude of about 75 km.
However, it should be mentioned here that according to most scientists, the beginning of space is at an altitude of 100 km above sea level – which is called the Karman Line.
Amazon’s space-travel aircraft will cross the Karman Line, Sir Richard Branson is not alone in the business of taking people into space. Being his rival or competitor. Jeff Bezos is the founder of Amazon.
The rocket they are building is called the New Shepard, and they say it will allow passengers to cross the Karman line.
Its originator, Blue Origin, says their vehicle is a real rocket – not an “aircraft” capable of flying very high.
Its windows will also be much larger, unlike the windows of a normal plane. Apart from that, it will also have a way for the passengers to get out of the vehicle in case of any emergency.
They say the vehicle will be environmentally friendly and will not harm the ozone layer.
According to Blue Origin, the New Shepherd has already completed 15 test trips safely.
However, the experience of the passengers of these two types of rocket-aircraft will be quite similar.
They will feel weightless in both cases. Inside the rocket plane, you can float in the air and see the magnificent view of space through the window.