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Virgin Galactic: Rocket reaches space again in test flight

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John Antczak, The Associated Press


Published Friday, February 22, 2019 4:11PM EST

LOS ANGELES — Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane reached space for a second time in a test flight over California on Friday, climbing higher and faster than before while also carrying a crewmember to evaluate the long-awaited passenger experience.

The winged spaceship soared at three times the speed of sound to an altitude of 55.8 miles (89.8 kilometres) before gliding to a safe landing at Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles, Virgin Galactic said.

In addition to chief pilot David Mackay and co-pilot Mike “Sooch” Masucci, the crew included Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor, Beth Moses.

Moses, described as an expert micro-gravity researcher who is in charge of evaluating the passenger cabin, floated free to test elements of the interior.

Virgin Galactic is working toward commercial operations that will take passengers on supersonic thrill rides to the lower reaches of space to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and a view of the Earth below.

The company intends to operate a fleet of spaceships out of Spaceport America in the high desert of southern New Mexico.

The flight was delayed two days due to winds, and company founder Richard Branson tweeted that he had to miss it so he could attend a concert in Colombia to raise money for humanitarian aid to crisis-stricken Venezuela.

“Sad to miss spaceflight but looking forward to the concert,” he wrote.

The spaceship, named VSS Unity, is carried aloft by a special carrier aircraft and released at high altitude where it ignites its rocket. It first reached space on Dec. 13 in a flight to an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometres) at slightly less than Mach 3.

Earlier this month, the rocket motor from that flight was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Rick “CJ” Sturckow were awarded commercial astronaut wings by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The only previous commercial astronaut wings went to pilots Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie, for their 2004 flights in SpaceShipOne, the predecessor to Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane, which is a design called SpaceShipTwo.

A major goal of Friday’s flight was evaluating its handling during descent with its twin tails rotated upward relative to the fuselage.

The “feathered” configuration is used to slow and stabilize the craft as it falls back into the thickening atmosphere. The name came from designer Burt Rutan comparing the mechanism to the feathers of a badminton shuttlecock. The tails rotate back to normal position for the glide to Earth.

Altitude and speed were not specific targets for the flight, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an interview earlier this week.

“If we have sort of a nominal-duration burn we will get up pretty high, but that is not one of the formal test goals for this one,” he said.

Whitesides indicated that cabin esthetics, including coloration and the play of sunlight across surfaces, are considered important and that the focus on it also shows the program is advancing.

“That’s not to say that we are fully done with vehicle testing, but we really are starting to move into the interiors testing phase, and that’s a really important milestone for the company,” he said.

Whitesides said he could not say how many more test flights remain.

“We’re getting there, I mean we’re making good progress, and I don’t think it’s a huge remaining number now. There’s light at the end of the tunnel now,” he said.

Branson has said he would like to make his first flight to space this summer on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

“I think he’d love to fly as soon as possible, and we’d love to figure out ways to enable that to happen,” he said.

But Whitesides could not commit to a date.

Like the December flight, VSS Unity again carried a payload of various experiments organized under a NASA program.

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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