Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic edges to goal of launching space tourism
To realise the long-held dream of flying tourists into space, no-one has done more than British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. His Virgin Galactic enterprise is close to turning science-fiction into fact, and ticketholders – who range in age from ten to 90 – are tingling with anticipation. There have been setbacks along the way, of course, but few now doubt Branson can deliver on his promises. The first tourist flight could take place as early as June 2019.
An aircraft serves as a launch platform, carrying the spacecraft to an altitude of 50,000 feet before releasing it, at which point a one-minute rocket engine burn boosts it to three-and-a-half times the speed of sound and an altitude upward of 60 miles, in a ballistic trajectory out of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Several minutes of suborbital flight will give space tourists the opportunity to leave their seats and experience weightlessness, as well as revel in the sensational views of Earth and infinity though twelve large circular cabin windows. Then, seated and strapped-in safely once more, they will feel the heavy burden of gravity as the spaceship decelerates down through the atmosphere and glides to a landing.
Tickets are priced at US$200,000-250,000, so the early spaceflights won’t be for everyone, but operating costs will come down over time and it is quite possible to imagine people who would normally join an ocean cruise opting for a ride into space instead.
Branson and his team have been steadily putting in place the infrastructure required to turn space tourism into a sustainable commercial proposition, and are diligently negotiating the path to full certification. A substantial boost to funding has come from Abu Dhabi investment group Aabar. Following the tragic accident that claimed the life of test pilot Mike Alsbury and destroyed the VSS Enterprise in October 2014, flight testing resumed with a replacement space vehicle, VSS Unity, which performed its first glide-tests in December 2016 and made its first powered flight in April 2018.
We’ll bring you news of Virgin Galactic’s progress as further milestones are reached. Meanwhile, for more detailed information, visit the Virgin Galactic website at www.virgingalactic.com
Images © Virgin Galactic