Videos: Virgin Galactic’s “Unity” rocketplane makes second powered flight

Virgin Galactic is carrying out a series of test flights of the VSS Unity suborbital rocketplane. Each test is going faster and higher with the aim of reaching space (greater than 80 km height as they define it) before the end of this year. On Wednesday, Unity made the second flight with its hybrid motor firing: Richard Branson Welcomes VSS Unity Home from Second Supersonic Flight – Virgin Galactic.

The focus of today’s flight was to expand our understanding of the spaceship’s supersonic handling characteristics and control system’s performance with vehicle parameters that were closer to the ultimate commercial configuration. This involved shifting the vehicle’s center of gravity rearward via the addition of passenger seats and related equipment. The rocket motor burned for the planned 31 seconds and propelled Unity to a speed of Mach 1.9 and an altitude of 114,500 ft.[34.9 km]. As will be the case for future commercial flights, Unity’s unique re-entry feathering system was deployed for the initial descent before the final glide home to a smooth runway landing.

If all goes well, commercial flights would begin next year with flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico taking 6 passengers at a time on the trip of a lifetime. Over 700 customers have paid up to $250,000 to ride a rocket to space and back.


ESO: New hi-res imagery reveals the beautiful complexity of the Tarantula Nebula

The latest report from ESO (European Southern Observatory):

A Crowded Neighbourhood

Glowing brightly about 160 000 light-years away, the Tarantula Nebula is the most spectacular feature of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our Milky Way. This image from VLT Survey Telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile shows the region and its rich surroundings in great detail. It reveals a cosmic landscape of star clusters, glowing gas clouds and the scattered remains of supernova explosions. [Larger versions]
Glowing brightly about 160 000 light-years away, the Tarantula Nebula is the most spectacular feature of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our Milky Way. The VLT Survey Telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile has imaged this region and its rich surroundings in exquisite detail. It reveals a cosmic landscape of star clusters, glowing gas clouds and the scattered remains of supernova explosions. This is the sharpest image ever of this entire field.

Taking advantage of the capacities of the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, astronomers captured this very detailed new image of the Tarantula Nebula and its numerous neighbouring nebulae and star clusters. The Tarantula, which is also known as 30 Doradus, is the brightest and most energetic star-forming region in the Local Group of galaxies.

The Tarantula Nebula, at the top of this image, spans more than 1000 light-years and is located in the constellation of Dorado (The Dolphinfish) in the far southern sky. This stunning nebula is part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that measures about 14 000 light-years across. The Large Magellanic Cloud is one of the closest galaxies to the Milky Way.

At the core of the Tarantula Nebula lies a young, giant star cluster called NGC 2070, a starburst region whose dense core, R136, contains some of the most massive and luminous stars known. The bright glow of the Tarantula Nebula itself was first recorded by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in 1751.

Another star cluster in the Tarantula Nebula is the much older Hodge 301, in which at least 40 stars are estimated to have exploded as supernovae, spreading gas throughout the region. One example of a supernova remnant is the superbubble SNR N157B, which encloses the open star cluster NGC 2060. This cluster was first observed by British astronomer John Herschel in 1836, using an 18.6-inch reflector telescope at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. On the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula, on the lower right-hand side, it is possible to identify the location of the famous supernova SN 1987A [1].

Moving to the left-hand side of the Tarantula Nebula, one can see a bright open star cluster called NGC 2100, which displays a brilliant concentration of blue stars surrounded by red stars. This cluster was discovered by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop in 1826 while working in Australia, using his self-built 9-inch (23-cm) reflecting telescope.

At the centre of the image is the star cluster and emission nebula NGC 2074, another massive star-forming region discovered by John Herschel. Taking a closer look one can spot a dark seahorse-shaped dust structure — the “Seahorse of the Large Magellanic Cloud”. This is a gigantic pillar structure roughly 20 light-years long — almost five times the distance between the Sun and the nearest star, Alpha Centauri. The structure is condemned to disappear over the next million years; as more stars in the cluster form, their light and winds will slowly blow away the dust pillars.

Obtaining this image was only possible thanks to the VST’s specially designed 256-megapixel camera called OmegaCAM. The image was created from OmegaCAM images through four different coloured filters, including one designed to isolate the red glow of ionised hydrogen [2].

[1] SN 1987A was the first supernova to be observed with modern telescopes and the brightest since Kepler’s Star in 1604. SN 1987A was so intense that it blazed with the power of 100 million suns for several months following its discovery on 23 February 1987.

[2] The H-alpha emission line is a red spectral line created when the electron inside a hydrogen atom loses energy. This happens in hydrogen around hot young stars when the gas becomes ionised by the intense ultraviolet radiation and electrons subsequently recombine with protons to form atoms again. The ability of OmegaCAM to detect this line allows astronomers to characterise the physics of giant molecular clouds where new stars and planets form.

This chart shows the location of the dramatic star formation region known as the Tarantula Nebula in the constellation of Dorado (The Dolphinfish). This map shows most of the stars visible to the unaided eye under good conditions, and the the region of sky covered by this image is shown with a red rectangle. The Tarantula is visible to the naked eye and the whole region is spectacular through a telescope.

Sci-Tech videos: Updates on Martin Jetpack and Urban Aero + A hydrofoil vehicle for Uber on water

New transport for air and water:

** Martin Jetpack – Been awhile since I posted videos of the New Zealand company’s one person Vertical Takeoff and Landing with a ducted fan design

According to the 2017 annual report (pdf), the current engine requires more maintenance and has a shorter working life than needed for commercial operations in most markets.  However, the company’s majority shareholder, KuangChi Science (KCS), has determined that the vehicle is “sufficiently advanced to generate revenue via repeatable show concept demonstrations and sales into the first responder market in China”

** Cormorant Urban Aero/Tactical Robotics – I’ve also posted here several times over the years about this large vertical takeoff and landing UAV with a unique approach to a ducted fan vehicle. The Israeli based company remains focused on emergency services and military applications rather than civilian transport –

** SeaBubbles is developing a water taxi with hydrofoils intended to provide Uber style personal transport services on waterways with a fast and stable ride –   SeaBubbles reveals its latest ‘flying water car’ as it brings in a new wave of cash – The Verge