Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson (third from right) will take off on the company’s first manned flight as part of a crew of six on July 11, 2021. They are (left to right): the pilot Dave McKay; Coplin Bennet, Chief Operations Engineer; Beth Moses, lead astronaut instructor; Branson; Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Investigative Operations; and pilot Michael Masucci. (Image Source: Virgin Galactic)
As the commercial race in suborbital space has heated up in recent years, a thorny question has been raised time and again: Where does outer space begin?
This is not just a philosophical debate. It has financial implications in the real world because a space travel company is selling seats for missions that may not reach the final border, depending on where you think the border is.
This company is Virgin Galactic, and it will send Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and several others to the company’s VSS Unity space plane for a historic event this Sunday (July 11). Test task. So far, Unity has reached suborbital space three times, the last time it was during the test flight on May 22, right?
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All three Unity space flights reached 51.4 miles, 55.9 miles and The maximum height of 55.4 miles (82.7 miles and 89.9 miles) is 89.2 kilometers). According to the standards of NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. military, this is sufficient for people on board to obtain their astronaut wings, which consider outer space to be 50. miles (80 kilometers) above the earth’s surface Start at.
But it is below another known boundary, the Carmen Line, which is generally interpreted as at an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers). Blue Origin of Virgin Galactic’s main competitor in the suborbital travel market, Jeff Bezos, has drawn attention to this fact, noting that his new Shepard aircraft is well above the Carmen line.
Consider the statement that Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin, emailed to the New York Times, which reported on the story about Branson’s upcoming flight on July 1: “We hope you have a pleasant flight. It’s safe, but they did not fly over the Carmen Line. This is a very different experience. ”
The statement has a backstory. Blue Origin is also gearing up for its high-profile mission this month: New Shepard’s first manned flight, which will carry Bezos, his brother Mark, pioneer pilot Wally Fink, and an auction for $ 2,800 Ten thousand to buy a seat. . (Blue Origin has yet to determine the winner of the auction.) Mission
New Shepard is scheduled to launch on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Blue Origin announced the target date in early May, nearly two months before Virgin Galactic announced its Branson launch plan. (The big reveal took place on July 1.)
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Virgin Galactic and Branson deny they are trying to get Blue Origin attention, saying Unity will take off on July 11 because it is ready to do so.
In an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) that aired on Wednesday (July 7), Branson discussed Smith’s comment on the Carmen line, stating that NASA and the FAA recognize the 50-mile border.
Additionally, “the difference in the actual experience is almost non-existent,” Branson told NPR’s Laila Fadell, noting that riders will get roughly equal weightless times at Unity and New Shepard. Virgin Galactic promised to achieve approximately 4 minutes of weightlessness on its flights. The 50-mile line
has other supporters, including astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who laid out the reason for the line in a 2018 article.
In the middle of the last century, Theodore von Kármán , a Hungarian-American physicist, proposed that space begins where orbital dynamics exceed aerodynamics. McDowell wrote in a 2018 study that placing this line within 100 kilometers was more or less achieved through an “approximate order of magnitude argument.” (After all, 100 kilometers is closer to the mark than 10 kilometers or 1000 kilometers.)
But according to von Kamen’s original definition, the actual limit is between 70 kilometers and 90 kilometers (43 to 56 miles) McDowell. So 80 kilometers (50 miles) is a good approximation of this fuzzy mark, especially considering that it represents the satellite’s way of no return. McDowell pointed out that a spacecraft with an elliptical orbit of less than 80 kilometers can only circle the earth at most, while a spacecraft maintained at a height of several kilometers can stay in the air for several days or weeks.
McDowell’s voice is influential among researchers and non-professionals, and NASA, FAA, and the US military are already involved. So, are we on the road to universal acceptance of 50 miles as the starting point in space? Or will the dispute continue for many years, and the two parties will become more and more entrenched? Either way, this will be an interesting trip.