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PICTURES: Branson trains for Virgin Galactic spaceflight

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has completed centrifuge training at NASTAR Center in the USA in preparation for an eventual suborbital spaceflight on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

Branson’s day-long course at the Southampton, Pennsylvania centre completed the first phase of training for Virgin Galactic’s “founder” group of customers. Alex Howerton, NASTAR Center business development manager, says the full two days of training was provided for 70 of the 100 founder astronauts.

The training was designed to generate excitement over the suborbital flights and alleviate apprehension about the space launch – to avoid any “panicking and puking”, says Howerton. The course included academic instruction on aerospace physiology and acceleration mechanics as well as the centrifuge training, he says.

Branson is briefed before simulated space launch (photo Mark Greenberg)

With Virgin Galactic and spaceship developer Scaled Composites providing a representative launch profile, the center’s centrifuge-based space training simulator reproduced a “reasonable facsimile” of the G forces to be experienced during the SS2’s launch, suborbital flight and re-entry, Howerton says.

The simulator has a dynamically controlled gondola that can be actively controlled in pitch and roll to replicate both the Gz forces felt up and down the spine and the Gx forces felt through the chest. SS2 occupants will experience 3.5Gz and 3Gx during launch and 6Gx during re-entry, he says.

The flight profile was reproduced from the SS2’s release from its White Knight II carrier aircraft, with the launch and re-entry simulated in real time and a brief representation of the in-space experience, Howerton says.

Branson experiences centrifuge-based space simulator  (photo Mark Greenberg)

Built by NASTAR Center's parent company Environmental Tectonics, the simulator is equipped with a dome visual system providing a 120º horizontal by 70º vertical field of view. For the Virgin Galactic training, the modular device was fitted with a cab representing a spacecraft interior.

Howerton says the NASTAR Center is now “moving ahead with Virgin Galactic on an ongoing relationship”, acknowledging that pilot training has been discussed. “Round one was passenger training, to give them a taste, get them excited and reduce their anxiety. It went very well - no panicking and puking.”

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