Depending on where you’d like to go, the cost of travel can range in price. It costs $2.40 to ride a bus around Winnipeg, or for a few hundred dollars you can fly across Canada and to nearby countries. But what about going into space? For a US$200 thousand ticket, you’ll be able take a ride in a Virgin Galactic spaceship within a couple years’ time.
Located in southern New Mexico, “Spaceport America” will be the home of Virgin Galactic’s headquarters, one of many companies in the Virgin Group, headed by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson. The state of New Mexico had originally made an agreement with Virgin Galactic in 2005 to create the 27 square mile, $200 million spaceport, hoping to cash in on future success in the new commercial spaceflight industry.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) originally granted Scale Composites, an American aerospace company, permission to launch an experimental rocket in 2004, known as SpaceshipOne, a precursor to Virgin Galactic’s current model of spacecraft. The company then won the prestigious Ansari X Prize, worth US$10 million, for being the first private organization to successfully launch a reusable, manned rocket ship into space twice within a two week period, according to Discover magazine.
The crafts now make up Virgin Galactic’s fleet and include five glider-like ships called SpaceShipTwo (SS2) and a larger vehicle called WhiteKnightTwo, which happens to be the biggest carbon composite ship ever constructed of its size according to VirginGalactic.com. The spaceflight begins as the WhiteKnightTwo “mothership” ferries the SS2 craft, which carries six passengers and two pilots, 15 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. The SS2 is then released and uses its own engine to propel itself higher. After the fuel runs out, the SS2 will essentially glide back to Spaceport America. Before the end of the trip, passengers will be 110 kilometres above Earth floating around weightless for at least a few minutes.
With NASA and Canadian Space Agency astronauts hitching rides with the Russian Soyuz spacecrafts for future missions in the upcoming years, there is a realization the U.S. should still be able to develop a sustainable way to send humans in space. Virgin Galactic will likely be one of many companies looking to help people reach the stars for a profit.
Among those rumoured to be on the wait list for Virgin Galactic’s first set of flights include Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie and Stephen Hawking. Hawking has already experienced zero gravity in the “Vomit Comet” — a modified Boeing 727.
Someday, university students in Manitoba could get student space pass discounts! I’m jealous.