As a child were you a space enthusiast? did you ever look up at the night’s sky and wish you could blast off into space? It might not be as far off as you’d think
today we will outline the definitions of Orbital and Suborbital flight along with the differences between them, these common terms in the spaceflight industry sound similar but mean different things.
Where do we begin?
With a few prevalent companies itching to make space travel affordable as well as viable for all; we will see the commercial space flight industry begin to blossom within the next 5 years*
There has never been a better time to begin anticipation for the joys of space travel, in the span of humanity’s existence such a huge leap of progress couldn’t be closer.
(*Currently, Blue Origin has a Federal Aviation Administration license for human spaceflight through August 2021. If the first crewed flights are successful, the general public can potentially start space tourism flights in early 2022)
Requiring lower speeds than Orbital flight we will start with the anticipated form of space travel; Suborbital flight, is a spaceflight that will not complete a full orbit around the earth, it reaches space and travels at a max speed below orbital velocity which allows for a short trip before traveling back down to earth, Such a flight travels at 3,700 mph (6,000 km/h) for reference a commercial flight will travel at 575 mph (925 km/h).
This type of space flight isn’t a quick trip into space, an orbital flight will be expected to complete at least one orbit of the earth, traveling at an orbital velocity that allows such a flight to occur otherwise earth’s gravity would be expected to pull any spacecraft back down within an extremely short timeframe to keep up this kind of spaceflight you’re looking to travel at 17,400 mph (28,000 km/h). If a spacecraft achieves the speed of 17,500 mph (28,000 km/h) or more, instead of falling back down, it will continuously fall around the Earth, and this is the goal of orbital flight.
Comparing the two
When looking at orbital and suborbital flight you see that they are two distinct experiences, it is worth considering the costs and level of engineering required for the two types of spaceflight, there is a huge difference in the speed necessary for orbital travel, this translates into the design of any rocket, suborbital rockets can be smaller, have lower operating costs and most importantly reusable whereas orbital spacecraft must be capable of traveling consistently at 17,400mph and usually has parts which have to be replaced after the flight, this is undesirable as the space industry begins to reduce their ecological impact.
During a suborbital spaceflight at the top of their flight arc, any passengers in a suborbital spacecraft will achieve a few minutes of weightlessness. They are falling back towards Earth in freefall, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are in a race to achieve regular private suborbital flights very soon.