Branson Wants to Fly Space Tourists into the Northern Lights

by Ian O'Neill on January 7, 2008

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The high altitude aurora as viewed by the ISS crew (NASA)
For his next big plan for the private space industry, Richard Branson is thinking up new ways to excite affluent space tourists: flying them into the biggest lightshow on Earth, the Aurora Borealis. Although the New Mexico Virgin Galactic Spaceport isn’t scheduled for completion until 2010, the British entrepreneur is already planning his next project intended for cruises into the spectacular space phenomenon from an Arctic launchpad.

Located in the far north of Sweden (in the Lapland province), the small town of Kiruna has a long history of space observation and rocket launches. The Arctic location provides the town with unrivalled views of the Aurora Borealis as it erupts overhead. The Auroral lightshow is generated by atmospheric reactions to impacting solar wind particles as they channel along the Earth’s magnetic field and down into the thickening atmospheric gases.

Once a view exclusive only to sounding rockets, this awe inspiring sight may in the future be seen from the inside, and above, by fee-paying space tourists as they are launched into space from a new spaceport, on the site of an existing base called Esrange. Although launching humans into an active aurora holds little scientific interest (if it did, it would have probably been done by now), it does pose some prudent health and safety questions. As Dr Olle Norberg, Esrange’s director, confidently states: “Is there a build-up of charge on the spacecraft? What is the radiation dose that you would receive? Those studies came out saying it is safe to do this.” Phew, that’s a relief.

The chance to actually be inside this magnificent display of light will be an incredible selling point for Virgin Galactic and their SpaceShipTwo flights. As if going into space were not enough, you can see and fly through the atmosphere at it’s most magnificent too.

Source: The Guardian Unlimited

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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

Eduardo P.D. January 7, 2008 at 11:41 AM

Its interesting.

Yet there should be research regarding to radiation dosimetry and tissue damage due to the increase in radiation exposure that this phenomenon carries with it.
Based on that the respective shielding protection, time of flight and extra protection should be assessed so that the safety of the passengers are always ensured at all times.

Its not just a question of building a rocket ship and flying etc because thats easy.

illiterate_chimp January 7, 2008 at 9:24 PM

Forget Safety, this is awesome! I can’t wait untill the price comes down and a poor slob like me can try.

MDB January 8, 2008 at 12:34 AM

Uh huh. Buliding and flying rocket ships is easy.

Idiot.

goose January 8, 2008 at 12:58 AM

oh for petesakes branson has the funds to take him to the moon to heck with the tourest do something that we all know the united states did not..he could clame it for himself just think a virgin moon

George Waring January 8, 2008 at 2:29 PM

I wish they would finish one job before they start yapping about the next.

SamudraMadhanaya February 16, 2009 at 12:38 AM

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