What is the Karman line, according to Virgin Galactic? Is Richard Branson really going to fly into space?
VIRGIN GALACTIC is set to create spaceflight history with the launch of the company’s first fully crewed spacecraft – or is it? Is Sir Richard Branson actually heading into space this afternoon, and what is the Karman line?
At first glance, spaceflight appears to be extremely simple: point your rocket upwards and watch it clear the planet’s atmosphere until it reaches the edge of space. However, as Virgin Galactic is about to demonstrate today (July 11), what appears to be a straightforward concept on paper may soon turn into a raging dispute – especially if there is no worldwide agreement on where the Earth ends and space begins.
Virgin Galactic’s fourth crewed spaceflight will take place today, with Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson joining the crew.
Today’s trip is the first of many fully-crewed flights to come for the space tourism firm, which intends to bring spaceflight to the masses – at least those who can pay the steep price tag.
VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spaceplane, will launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico, aiming for a suborbital journey of 56 miles.
Before returning to Earth, the spaceplane will spend around four minutes in a weightless condition.
And this is where the issues begin, because not everyone believes Virgin Galactic will reach the edge of space.
The lack of an officially recognized space border lies at the heart of Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight issue.
The vast majority of people on the planet agree that the edge of space is at a height of around 62 miles (100 kilometers), known as the Karman line.
The line, named for Hungarian-American physicist Theodore von Karman, indicates the transition from aerodynamic to orbital forces.
In other words, it’s the point at which the atmosphere can no longer support a suborbital vehicle.
“The Karman line at 100km altitude is an universally regarded point that defines the boundary between Earth and space,” according to the European Space Agency (ESA), “but weather, especially space weather, will often take no attention of boundaries imposed by humans.”
The US Air Force and NASA are notable exceptions, both of which regard space to be 50 miles wide (80km).
According to these criteria, anyone who flies over this altitude qualifies as an astronaut.
Even inside NASA, however, there is significant discord, with Mission Control defining the. “Brinkwire Summary News.”