Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne claimed the X-Prize when it reached an altitude of 100km for the second time in less than 2 weeks. Although this was a much simpler feat than reaching orbital altitude and velocities, many believed we were on the verge of a space tourism revolution. Virgin Galactic, one of the companies attempting to make a business out of suborbital flights recently unveiled details about SpaceShipTwo at a space tourism conference in London.
Virgin Galactic is a collaborative venture between Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites. Branson committed to purchasing a fleet of larger vehicles than SpaceShipOne, capable of carrying a pilot and several passengers on a suborbital flight.
Reporters from Flight International were on hand at the recent Royal Aeronautical Society space tourism conference in London when representatives from Virgin Galactic updated the audience on their plans.
They revealed that SpaceShipTwo will be much larger than SS1, carrying 6 passengers and 2 pilots. The vehicles will be carried into the air by bigger versions of the White Knight aircraft. Once they fire their new hybrid rocket motors, the vehicles will be capable of reaching an altitude of 140 km. Brave passengers will experience 5 minutes of weightlessness, where they might be allowed to float around the cabin. They’ll have to hurry back to their chairs; however, as they’ll suffer 7Gs of force as the vehicle decelerates back through the atmosphere.
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Scaled Composites is still working on the vehicles, with the first test flights in 2007. Virgin Galactic hopes to have paid customers launched by 2008 or 2009. The company claims they already have 100 founder members who’ve already set aside $200,000 for one of the first flights.
If all goes well, and they sign up enough paid customers, Virgin Galactic expects they could eventually require 30 pilots to keep the flights going. The company recently announced that they will be looking to hire NASA astronauts as well as promoting pilots from their existing airlines, like Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Blue.