Virgin’s New Spaceship

The world of space science has treated us
to a couple of cool revelations in the past couple of weeks — and to fans of all things
extraterrestrial, like us, they’re both pretty exciting. One has to do with how people will get to
space in the future…and the other is teaching us more about what our solar system was like
in the distant past. So, first: there’s a new spaceship out there! Unveiled in a ceremony on February 19th, it’s
called the VSS Unity — the name chosen by Stephen Hawking — and it’s the latest version
of Virgin Galactic’s space tourism vehicle, SpaceShipTwo. The previous version of SpaceShipTwo, known
as the VSS Enterprise, was lost in the October 2014 crash that killed one of its test pilots,
Michael Alsbury. So Unity is designed to incorporate the lessons
the company learned from that accident — and hopefully make sure that nothing like it ever
happens again. Mainly, that involved adding a particular
fail safe. The SpaceShipTwo system gets to space with
the help of WhiteKnightTwo, a plane that’s basically its mothership. The plane carries the spaceship to a certain
height and releases it. Then, the ship uses rocket power to get above 100 kilometers — the
point where the passengers are officially in space. The flights are designed so that space tourists
get to experience a few minutes of weightlessness, then head back to Earth — which involves
a tricky glide back down through the atmosphere. To help the ship slow down on its way home,
SpaceShipTwo has what’s known as a feathering system. When the ship re-enters the atmosphere,
the wings and tail tilt upward to help it slow down. And that’s what went wrong with the Enterprise,
back in 2014. The feathering system is only supposed to
be activated after the engines have stopped firing, when the ship is already going a little
more slowly. But on the day of the crash, one of the pilots
unlocked the feathering system too early, and the Enterprise broke apart. So, one of the main changes to the new ship
is that, even if pilots try to unlock the feathering system at the wrong time, the computer
system will make sure that they won’t be able to. The Unity isn’t quite ready to fly yet,
though. The ship still needs to go through all kinds
of ground testing, to make sure the components work together properly. Then the next major step will be glide tests,
where the ship is released by WhiteKnightTwo and glides to a landing without firing its
rockets. If all goes well with the ground and glide
tests, the Unity will be ready for the final stage of testing, where it’ll use rocket
power for test flights that go higher and higher — and eventually reach space. After that, it might start ferrying some of
the 700 people who have already signed up for the $250,000 flights. But there’s no word yet on how long testing
is expected to take, and it sounds like the Virgin Galactic team isn’t in any kind of
rush. Which makes sense: This is spaceflight, where
we reach great distances by taking many, many small steps. The other reveal of the week came on February
18th, which also happens to be the 86th anniversary of Pluto’s discovery by American astronomer
Clyde Tombaugh. To celebrate, NASA released new photos of
Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. The agency also announced that it’s looking
more and more like Charon once had a subsurface ocean of liquid water. Yes! Even on the remotest fringes of the solar
system! These days, Charon is very, very cold — like,
more than 200 degrees below zero. So there’s almost definitely no liquid water sloshing
around in there now. But there probably used to be sources of heat
inside Charon — for example, radioactive elements that would have generated heat as
they decayed. If it once had a liquid ocean that eventually
froze, that /would/ explain a lot about the moon — mainly, its cracks. The area highlighted in this picture — known
as Serenity Chasma — is a series of chasms up to 7 kilometers deep — compare that to
the Grand Canyon, which is about 1.5 kilometers deep. Plus, Charon’s a lot smaller than Earth
— only about 1200 kilometers wide — so it’s an incredibly deep gouge compared to the moon’s
size. Mission scientists think that the chasms probably
formed as the liquid ocean froze and expanded, cracking the surface. Which means that there’s yet another world
in our solar system that might have once had an ocean of liquid water. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Space News, and thanks especially to our patrons on Patreon who help make this show possible.
If you want to help us keep making episodes like this, you go to or
you can join us on the SciShow channel Wednesday, March 2 for our 12-hour live stream! And don’t
forget to go to and subscribe!

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Post navigation

100 thoughts on “Virgin’s New Spaceship

  1. "Officially outside the atmosphere"? 100 km isn't even outside the mesosphere, much less the thermosphere… Baby steps, I guess?

  2. spaceship? lol really i mean we have been to the moon, we are all that exists dam it, why is it sooo hard to comprehend this. also whats with virgins on a spaceship? WIERD!!

  3. all those movies where aliens take over the earth for our resources… but out there in space… all those resources are much more abundant and easily mined. one would think the aliens would skip the trouble of intergalactic war to get our water 😛

  4. Branson's Spaceport in New Mexico has been nothing but a boondoggle that has ripped of the state and the surrounding communities for going on 10 years now. It's easy to be patient when you aren't paying for it.

  5. How come spacex have so much testing needed for their proven rocket to take crew when it seems virgin can just put people straight onto its experimental prototypes?

  6. Does anyone else think she is mumbling and speaking too fast? English is my 3rd language so that might be a factor, but I don´t have any problems following any other Scishow presenter.

  7. Uhh only a few minutes in space? Kinda pathethic if you ask me…i'll wait to pay for something a little more significant than just floating around on an uncomfortable plane ride.

  8. One would think that computer controlled redundancy preventing premature feathering would have been implemented from jump street.

  9. I hope the engineers go through all the what if`s this time ,whilst not a rocket engineer it seems an extraordinary oversight that no one said `what if` before the previous accident and does little to encourage confidence imo however optimistic Ms Hofmeister sounds. But another great post sci show !

  10. It kind of makes sense, that smaller object have more rugged surface. They have lower gravity, so erosion takes longer and any kind of tectonic or volcanic activity can lead to higher features.

  11. for the small price of $100000000000000000000000000 dollars 1% of the population can enjoy the beauty of space, while everyone else can watch and cray. oh science, I love you.

  12. In otherwords, the moon Charon used to have liquid water?

    If we do not name one of these chasms "The River Styx" I will be severely dissapointed.

  13. Radiation, tidal stresses and salination are all things that could maintain liquid water at lower environmental temperatures. Its not so much surprizing as it is an awesome discovery 😀

  14. What if the ancient heat source on Charon wasn't radioactive but rather a core comprised of an exotic element capable of manipulating the mass field

  15. it's spelled kār′·ən, with a 'cha' spelled just like 'ca' in 'car' or in 'card.' Please stop saying Sharon! I know that in American English you say it like that, and that it's even in the dictionary that both forms are accepted, but as a trully scientific comunity, you should know that Sharon was never really true to the original. It does away with the mythical symbolism for which the planet was actually named thusly. Please!

  16. The pull of gravity is a possible source of energy that could keep Charon's underground ocean liquid. After all, it is orbiting fairly close to Pluto, so the gravity should be at least somewhat significant… Yes, Pluto is just about 18% of our Moon by mass, but it is also something like 22 times closer to Charon than our Moon is to Earth. Since gravity is inversely proportional to the square of distance. Not quite sure if this means that means that Pluto's gravitational pull (and tidal force) on Charon would be some 85 times stronger than the Moon's on Earth, but I think it should be stronger by some factor. And that (my friends 🙂 ) should provide a source of energy that could conceivably heat up some of Charon's interior 🙂

  17. It is spelled Celsius not Celcius

    Named after Anders Celsius (1701–44), Swedish astronomer who invented it.

  18. She would be the one talking about a Virgin space ship. Not making any insinuations or anything. I'm sure isn't a worker for Virgin. But she does look awfully like a Virgin person…. I mean…. Worker.

  19. Space flight should be left to nasa. Virgin Galactic has proven to be inept when it comes to space. They need to go back to cell phones.

  20. This thing is a waste of time….its like a glass bottom boat when what we need a space range rover.  Decades ago they planned a vehicle that took off under jet propulsion then changed into a scramjet, then used rocket power once the air was too thin.  And it was big enough to carry more than a few slack-jawed gawkers.

  21. Hmm…Maybe we should just use a Liquid Fueled rocket for that…It would be a "bit" more difficult but A hell of alot safer.

  22. 250k for a couple seconds in space. Nope not worth it! Maybe if they took me around the earth once or twice then I would be much more inclined to pay

  23. this video is really cool and i'm not trying to dismiss that but oh my god? i am adoring caitlin's ringlets here. theyre adorable

  24. The weightlessness has not bearing on the ship attaining 'space', whatever that it is. The weightlessness is purely due to the deceleration and falling back to Earth of the ship.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *