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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

Virgin Galactic Doesn't Just Benefit the Rich—It's Good for Science

• http://www.wired.com, By Alex Davies

Yes, Virgin Galactic caters to the wealthy who can afford its $250,000 parabolic joyrides, if and when they finally take flight. But that doesn't mean there's no upside for the rest of us (beyond the relief of getting Justin Bieber off the planet, even for a few minutes). If Virgin achieves its goal of easy, reliable, and (comparatively, given that it is space flight) affordable space travel, there could be two big benefits: Accessible low orbital research for scientists, and vastly simplified satellite launches.

Virgin doesn't offer a lot of weightless time—Katy Perry and Ashton Kutcher will get just four minutes to float around the cabin before they have to find their way back to their seats. For researchers who have experiments to run, that short time is a real limitation, but it doesn't make Virgin's flights worthless. NASA sees benefits to sub-orbital flight research, and last year held a whole conference to discuss the field. It also plans to use SpaceShipTwo to run 12 experiments. That work will, according to NASA, range from providing "stability data for a prototype orbiting fuel depot," to seeing how a "modulating fluid-based spacecraft thermal energy rejection solution" works in microgravity, to "test[ing] the application of a carpal wrist joint to the momentum management and control of small satellites."

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