VIRGIN Galactic has signed a “space act” with Nasa to take “thousands” of tourists into Earth’s orbit.
The historic agreement will see private citizens given astronaut training, launched into space – and potentially even taken aboard the International Space Station.
The vehicle (right) is the followup to Virgin Galactic’s first plane, VSS Unity. They could take tourists into space as early as this year[/caption]
Richard Branson’s space-faring rocket firm promises to help create a “robust economy” in space.
And it will team up with Nasa to safely ferry wealthy Earthlings to and from the ISS.
“We are excited to partner with Nasa on this private orbital spaceflight program,” said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic’s chief.
“We want to bring the planetary perspective to many thousands of people.”
Virgin Galactic’s space plane VSS Unity pictured in flight[/caption]
Virgin Galactic says part of the agreement includes developing a “private orbital astronaut readiness program”.
This means Virgin Galactic will identify potential space tourists and create “training packages” to prepare them for launch, landing and life in space.
According to Virgin Galactic, this is already in progress.
The firm has created a customised Future Astronaut Readiness programme for people flying out of Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Passengers at the site will become familiar with the environment in space, including G-forces and zero-G.
Private citizens who want to travel to space will be able to use the facilities to train before making their trip into Earth’s orbit.
Virgin Galactic plans to charge £200,000 a ticket to launch passengers from a spaceport in New Mexico starting in 2020.
Virgin Galactic’s newly unveiled spaceport in New Mexico[/caption]
The company has carried out dozens of test flight – including the first successful launch of its tourism rocket plane into space in December 2018.
Over 600 people have already paid £64.2million of deposits to the company to secure their tickets on the first spaceflights.
Branson has previously claimed he would fly in one his firm’s space planes this year, with the first commercial flights going up a few months later.
A spokesperson told the Sun last month: “We are working towards commercial operation in 2020.”
That’s a pretty ambitious goal, and is worth taking with a pinch of salt, as Branson’s company has repeatedly missed its launch targets.
The billionaire founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, and initially predicted the maiden space flight would launch by 2009. The date has been repeatedly pushed back due to technical problems.
How Virgin Galactic will fly tourists to space
Here’s everything you need to know…
- Unlike most space flight companies, Virgin Galactic will not use a rocket to launch tourists to space.
- Instead, its VSS Unity Space plane will head toward space strapped to an enormous carrier plane called White Knight Two.
- At around 50 miles above the Earth’s surface – the border of outer space as defined by Nasa – VSS Unity will detach from its mothership.
- Within seconds, the space plane will engage its rocket motor and Unity will fly at a near-vertical angle into suborbital space, hitting three and a half times the speed of sound.
- After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, the pilots will safely shut it down, giving riders around two minutes of weightlessness.
- The pilots will then swivel Unity around and return it to Earth, landing it like a commercial airliner.
A lavish lounge at Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America, New Mexico[/caption]
Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceport, with Carrier Aircraft, VMS Eve on Tarmac. VMS Eve will be used to carry a smaller plane, dubbed SpaceShipTwo, up to a certain height before it releases its payload. SpaceShipTwo then heads to orbit[/caption]
A successful maiden flight manned by two pilots finally took place in mid-December 2018.
If all goes to plan, space fans will be launched more than 50 miles above Earth – a point at which Nasa define travellers as astronauts.
Passengers will ride aboard SpaceShipTwo, a spaceplane designed to carry six passengers and two pilots.
It is carried aloft by a large aeroplane before breaking away and zooming to an altitude of about 62 miles.
With a hefty price tag of $250,000 (£175,000) a ticket, the 90-minute flight is being aimed at wealthy celebrities and thrillseekers, as well as researchers.
Branson has said that “ultimately” he would like to see the price fall as low as $40,000 (£30,700) over the next decade.
It’s likely that trips to the ISS will cost much more.
In other news, Nasa has plans for a permanent moon base, with boss Jim Bridenstine declaring “we want lots of humans in space”.
The agency recently picked Blue Origin rival SpaceX to front a world-first mission to deflect a hazardous space rock by crashing a spaceship into it in 2022.
And, here are all the billionaire contenders in the new space race, and how they plan to put humans on the Moon in the next decade.