Spaceport America Terminal
Just by chance I awoke this morning with a vivid memory and a vision of the dream I just had. I was at a drive-thru resturant somewhere high above the clouds, devouring a chocolate fudge cake whilst sitting in an incredible yellow flying-car. Perhaps what is a dream today could be a reality even sooner than I could imagine. This is probably what Sir Richard Branson and his team at Virgin Galactic may have thought not so long ago. The excitement increases as the project continues to develop at a rapid pace. Virgin Galactic has laid a new milestone in commercial space flight by a a successful test flight with the first glide flight of SpaceShip Two, thereby allowing the dream to begin. A journey for the thrill-seekers by the hand of Sir Richard – a pioneer in this area and an iconic tycoon – The outcome for an open-minded society is the use of space, and an awareness of all its possibilities for generations to come.
Could you please brief me about how the current situation is for commercial space flights, regarding tests, aircraft innovations and other relevant information.
The Virgin Galactic project began in 2004 when we acquired the rights to use technologies developed for Burt Rutan´s $10 million X Prize winning Spaceship One, which had carried two people into space in two separate flights in two weeks using private sector resources and not Government money. Our task was to fold firstly to develop a viable business plan to develop Burt’s remarkable Carbon Composite technology into a working Spaceship. We wanted to build a vehicle capable of doing space tourism, space science and eventually doing industrial payload work. What we needed was a first available market to prove we could fund the vehicle without government support. Space tourism was the answer and we proved there was a market using research and by going out and selling tickets.
We then designed Spaceship Two and WhiteKnight Two as a profitable and practical space launch system capable of taking people into space for $200,000 each on a sub orbital flight to 110 km. The test commercial vehicles are now built and we have conducted approximately 50 test flights so far. The main innovations we’ve used are in the design of the system using composites, the unique hybrid rocket motor and the feathering device of Spaceship Two which allows it to re enter the atmosphere without having to fly a flight profile.
What is the estimated date for an official launch of the 1st commercial space flight?
Safety is our number one priority so we will only fly when we feel it is as safe as possible and once we have the proper licensing and approvals. We began an extensive test flight program in 2008 with the inaugural flight of WhiteKnight Two and have just passed another huge milestone with the successful first glide flight of SpaceShip Two. There will be several more glide flights before we enter the powered flight testing phase. You can expect to see test spaceflights shortly after that and we plan to undertake a reasonable number of those before we take commercial passengers. So, we cannot commit to dates as will never cut comers, but so far everyone is delighted with progress and we are looking at commercial service over a two year period.
Conceptual design of Spaceport America by Foster + Partners. Courtesy of Foster + Partners
Once this step is achieved how often do you expect to give the option for this service at least in a 1st phase?
We would be looking to build from weekly flights from Spaceport America to daily flights and then twice a day once we have sufficient demand and vehicles in our fleet.
Are the spaceports of New Mexico and Kiruna in Sweden where the actual departure for space commercial flights will take place?
We are all focused on one thing now: operations from Spaceport America the brand-new, state funded commercial spaceport in Southern New Mexico. We may someday be able to operate from other places in the world but our headquarters and main operations will always be in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic is a US company subject to US regulation by the FAA –Federal Aviation Administration– and will require permission for overseas operations but that is indeed a future option.
How many passengers are already booked?
We have approximately 400 paying customers.
What is the maximum number of passengers per flight?
We will carry 8 astronauts consisting of 2 pilots and 6 space tourists or space scientists.
Virgin Galactic astronauts enjoying weightlessness in the spacious SpaceShipTwo cabin
Could you be so kind to explain me briefly which training is necessary to achieve a boarding pass?
Step 1> Plan for 3 days of preparation, medical checks, bonding, and g-force acclimatization as part of flight cost.
Step 2> Carrier aircraft is able to act as a training platform with passenger cabins that replicate the spaceship.
Step 3> All passengers will be able to leave their seats and float in zero G should they wish and enjoy view of space and the earth stretching for around 1000 miles in every direction.
How many hours does it take the whole space experience; from the spacecraft launch to landing?
Up to a maximum of 3 hours depending on weather and the height to which we fly.
Do you think further improvements could make it possible for the passengers stay outside the spacecraft or for instance “have a walk” on moon?
One day possibly but no such activities are in our current plans.
© Mark Greenberg
What is the current price per flight?
The flight cost is US$200k. We have accepted Deposits from between $20 and $200k we now hold a total of over $50 million in deposits.
What do you think could be the keynotes for this amount of money to be reduced in order to get closer the mainstream market?
Our long term goal is to make space travel increasingly affordable so over time we do expect to be able to bring prices down.
Sir Richard Branson inside vms eve
Do you believe in future travel promotions for such an experience?
Yes, there will come a time that we will do travel promotions and indeed we are already selling entire Charters for groups of 6 that wish to go together.
How do you think it could affect to the society this gentle approach to the space?
I think it will have a big effect on society. We need to make much more use of space and invest in technologies in the private sector to make space work for mankind rather than using the atmosphere for all our industrial activities. Space tourism will help to kick start these activities and really give people the belief that they may have a future in space for generations to come.
Virging Glactic Commercial Space Flights
Place: Spaceport Amercia/ New Mexico Spaceport Authority
Address: 901 E. University Ave, Bldg 3 Suite C, Las Cruces, NM 88001, USA
Text: Victor Moreno