As per Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s chief and founder, the firm will take its first trip into space in the coming weeks.
Virgin Galactic is in a race against Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide space flights to wealthy people who would like to tour space. If Virgin Galactic does journey into space soon, the feat will mark a milestone for them.
During an interview with CNBC, Branson said his firm was tantalizingly close to their first landmark flight beyond Earth’s atmosphere, saying they should be in space within weeks, not months.
An interesting story to follow for Asgardia as they work towards setting up habitable platforms in low-Earth orbit.
What’s more, Branson stated that he hopes to be onboard an early Virgin Galactic flight in months not years, while space tourists who can afford to pay the $250,000 (£192,000) cost would take their seats not too long after Branson’s flight.
Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 and at the time Branson promised suborbital flights – those that reach space without orbiting the planet – by 2009. However, the company’s plans were delayed by various setbacks including the loss of the company’s previous space plane in an accident that killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury in 2014.
High above the Mojave desert in California pilots have been testing the SpaceShipTwo craft, VSS Unity. During the most recent test that took place in July, the spacecraft was released from its jet-powered carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, at 46,500 feet before the Unity’s pilots lit its rocket. The 42-second burn blasted it to 171,000 feet, which is almost five times the cruising altitude of a transatlantic passenger plane. Its top speed was recorded at Mach 2.47.
However, for Unity to get to space, the pilots must take the craft even higher. The upper atmosphere is typically regarded to give way to space at an altitude of 62 miles (100km), almost twice the height that the July test flight accomplished.
During the CNBC interview, Branson was asked if he was confident that people would pay for tickets. He told CNBC that in a room of 10 people eight out of 10 would go if they could afford the cost.
Branson added that he believes the market for people who would love to become astronauts and go to space is massive. Thus, he feels it’s his company’s responsibility to produce as many spaceships as they can to fill that demand. What’s more, the cost of a ticket could ultimately be reduced to just $50,000 in the future.
Of course, Virgin Galactic is not the only firm that hopes to cater to space tourism. In April, Bob Smith, the chief of Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origins space company, told CNBC that their company still hoped to send tourists to the edge of space by the end of 2018. While Elon Musk, head of SpaceX, has revealed plans to send a passenger around the moon in 2023.
SpaceShipTwo was engineered to hold six passengers, bringing them to the edge of space at an altitude of at least 50 miles. After a minute-long rocket burn, the rocket plane would continue its upward trajectory and then fall back to Earth, letting passengers have time to float freely for a brief period, and see the curvature of the Earth.
Commercial flights will take off from a spaceport in New Mexico. In July, the UK Space Agency announced a £2.5m grant for the construction of a spaceport on the northern coast of Scotland after it was decided to be a prime site from which to lob satellites into orbit.