More than five hundred intrepid travelers have already bought tickets for the flight of a lifetime. Virgin Galactic plans to take them onboard Space Ship Two, on a journey 62 miles above Earth’s surface at speeds of more than 2,500 miles per hour. With this challenge, the company plans to make history in the world of commercial aviation. The trip is expected to last three hours, and the price exceeds $200,000 per person. Prices will likely drop once the flights become regular.
Sir Richard Branson aboard Spacehhip Two. Photo: Mark Chivers.
The first one hundred passengers have already paid the full amount, as a deposit that guaranties a seat onboard for the historic fight. Those who have signed up for the waiting list will be able to pay over time in small installments. As a result, the company has already received $60 million, which represents 100 % of the initial investment, an unimaginable feat since they’ve yet to deliver the first commercial voyage. Spaceship Two’s maiden flight is scheduled for the end of this year, although the precise date is still a secret. Because of the special characteristics of the trip, all passengers will receive prior training to get acquainted with the pressure, speed and altitude during the actual flight.
Virgin Galactic was founded in September of 2004 by English tycoon Sir Richard Branson. The aircraft that will take the first commercial travelers to outer space uses a hybrid engine, and trials are currently underway in California’s Mojave dessert. Spaceship Two, unveiled in 2009, was specially designed for space flights, and to date a total of more than 75 test flights have been conducted. So far, the December 2012 test flight was the only one that included all the tanks, valves and pipes needed on board, and according to the company, it was completed with total success.
White Knight Two, in flight during the Oshkosh airshow, July 2009. Photo: Mark Greenberg / Virgin Galactic.
The futuristic looking aircraft is a commercially viable upgrade from Spaceship One, and it surpasses the technical expectations of its prototype. With a capacity of only eight people – six passengers and two pilots– Space Ship Two was conceived as a private plane, tough engineers believe it will also benefit scientists from NASA and other international space organizations.
However, George Whitesides, CEO and President of Virgin Galactic, admits that a lot of works still needs to be done before the release of this program, adding that he plans to make several trips during the spring of 2013 to make sure everything works to perfection.
Commercial space travel represents one more step towards the conquest of the cosmos. Perhaps Branson´s dream of offering the average person safe passage to space, will become a reality in 2013. It is undoubtedly one more achievement for the British entrepreneur, who is known to be a transformative leader.
SpaceshipTwo, during a glide flight in Mojave, CA, USA. Photo: Mark Greenberg.
Virgin Galactic is part of the more than 400 companies that make up the Virgin Group, owned by Branson, which include Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Records. ■