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"A penny for your thoughts"

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Spaceflight Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic Spaceship 2

Future passengers aboard Virgin Galactic spaceliners can look forward to cushioned reclining seats and lots of windows during suborbital flights aboard SpaceShipTwo.Virgin Galactic recently showed off the spaceships that will take rich passengers into sub-orbit starting as early as next year. The ships will take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The picture below just shows the spaceship -- SpaceShip Two, but White Knight Two, which is a plane, is required to get the spaceship high enough to launch itself into space . The plane is near completed, and the spaceship is approximately 60% done.For an initial ticket price of $200,000, Virgin Galactic passengers will buy a 2.5-hour flight aboard SpaceShipTwo and launch from an altitude of about 60,000 feet (18,288 meters), while buckled safely in seats that recline flat after reaching suborbital space.The suborbital flight itself will only be a small fraction of that time. The weightlessness will last approximately 6 minutes. Passengers will be able to release themselves from their seats during these 6 minutes and float around the cabin. A flight animation depicted passengers clad in their own personal spacesuits as they reached a maximum altitude of at least 68 miles (110 kilometers). The air-launched SpaceShipTwo is designed to seat eight people - six passengers and two pilots - and be hauled into launch position by WhiteKnightTwo, a massive carrier craft currently under construction by Scaled Composites. According to Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn, the company had sold nearly 200 seats as of November 2007.The first flight is planned for 2009.

While orbital flights can be made by budding space tourists through the Russian Space Agency, there are presently no operational craft capable of sub-orbital flight aside from SpaceShipOne. SpaceShipTwo will fly a little higher than SpaceShipOne, to a height of 110 km in order to go beyond the defined boundary of space (100 km) and lengthen the experience of weightlessness.The spacecraft will reach around Mach 3 (1000 m/s), which is slightly faster than current fighter jets are capable of attaining, however the spacecraft will not be able to sustain that speed for long periods of time. To re-enter the atmosphere SpaceShipTwo folds its wings up, and then returns them to their original position for a smooth and gentle glide back onto the runway. The craft has a very limited cross-range capability and therefore has to land in the area where it started.

Although the initial deposit is set to be $200,000 for the first 100 to fly, the next 400 will pay a deposit between $100,000 and $175,000; all passengers after that will pay a deposit of only $20,000 each.

Among those reported to have told Branson that they wished to be among the first to fly on the spacecraft are actor William Shatner,designer Philippe Starck,The Panic Channel guitarist Dave Navarro,Alien star Sigourney Weaver,Hollywood director Bryan Singer,Musician Moby,socialite Paris Hilton,and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (who on January 8, 2007 announced plans to take a sub-orbital flight in 2009.) Also, Richard Branson himself and some of his family members will be launched on the VSS Enterprise's first commercial flight in 2009, before everyone else.In 2006, Richard Branson offered actor William Shatner a free ride on the inaugural space launch in 2008, saving Shatner $200,000; however, Shatner turned it down, and said, "I do want to go up but I need guarantees I'll definitely come back".In addition, other celebrities such as Patrick Stewart have expressed serious doubts about flying into space.In March 2005, Doug Ramsberg, a native of Northglenn, Colorado, won a free trip to suborbital space aboard Virgin Galactic, from a Volvo sweepstakes sponsored by Virgin.In September 2006, Alan Watts, a British businessman, indicated that he was able to redeem 2,000,000 frequent flyer miles for a ticket aboard a 2009 Virgin Galactic space flight.

There are numerous other companies actively working on commercial passenger suborbital spaceflight. Virgin Galactic's most likely competitors include EADS Astrium, Rocketplane Kistler, Space Adventures, and Benson Space Company.

In addition, an international architectural competition was held for the design of the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in New Mexico. The contract was awarded to Foster + Partners architects.
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