TWIRL 20: Billionaire Richard Branson gets ready for space [Update]

The TWIRL logo in front of a Long March rocket
Background image from SciNews

China's Long March rockets will kick off next week with launches on Monday and Tuesday where they will ferry satellites to space. Later in the week, Richard Branson, the billionaire behind Virgin Galactic will finally get to spend a bit of time in space.

Monday, July 5

At 11:25 p.m. UTC (on Sunday), a Chinese Long March CZ-4C rocket will launch the Fengyun 3E weather satellite into a polar orbit. The satellite is part of the second generation of Chinese polar-orbiting meteorological satellites and follows on from the FY-1 series. The satellite carries various weather instruments to perform its tasks and is powered by a single solar panel.

Tuesday, July 6

A Long March CZ-3C/E will be carrying the Tianlian 1E satellite into orbit. The Tianlian 1E is the fifth satellite to be launched from the Tianlian 1 series. The Tianlian 1 satellites sit in geostationary orbit and are used to support real-time communications between orbiting satellites and ground control stations.

Saturday, July 10

On Saturday, the Chinese firm iSpace will be conducting the third test flight of its Hyperbola SQ-1 solid booster. There's not too much information on this launch but an earlier test flight from February saw the rocket go out of control during its first stage of the launch.

Sunday, July 11

Virgin Galactic is set to launch its SpaceShipTwo rocketplane VSS Unity from an aircraft on July 11. This flight will be the first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four more crew members in the cabin. Interestingly, Richard Branson, the person who founded Virgin Galactic, will be one of the four in the cabin along with chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, lead operations engineer, Colin Bennett, and vice president of government affairs and research operation Sirisha Bandla. The craft will be piloted by Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci.

Recap

On Wednesday, Roscosmos launched a Soyuz 2.1a rocket carrying the 78th Progress mission to the ISS. Here’s the launch of that rocket:

Since launching, Progress has docked at the International Space Station, which you can see footage of below:

On the same day, Virgin Orbit carried out its Tubular Bells mission which saw its Cosmic Girl aircraft set the stage for the LauncherOne’s air launch. LauncherOne carried seven satellites into orbit.

SpaceX also performed its Transporter-2 rideshare mission on Wednesday which saw the launch of a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket carrying several satellites, you can see that launch here:

The final launch of the past seven days was that of a Starsem Soyuz 2.1b rocket which was carrying a Fregat upper stage containing 36 OneWeb satellites. You can see the launch below:

Update: Since publishing this article on Friday, there have been two notable space events. A Long March rocket carried several Jilin-1 satellites into space where they will perform imaging work and China's astronauts performed a spacewalk from the Chinese Space Station.

You can see the Long March launch here:

The footage of the Chinese spacewalk is here:

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