The cost of leaving the stratosphere as a space tourist aboard Rich Branson’s new WhiteKnightTwo jet? US$200,000. The memories? Priceless (well, they’d want to be).
The new WhiteKnightTwo aircraft carrier, which was launched yesterday in the Mojave desert by business tycoon Richard Branson, will carry both the commercial jet SpaceShipTwo containing passengers, as well as other payloads.
This aircraft will act as the mothership, bringing the passenger jet into sub-orbital space at which point the two separate and SpaceShipTwo continues its rapid ascent towards zero gravity allowing passengers to briefly enjoy the experience of floating in space before returning in a glide to the earth’s surface.
Both aircraft are undergoing extensive testing and the chance for tourists to be catapulted into zero gravity will not happen until some time on 2010. Already, over 250 people have signed up for its maiden voyage.
“Seeing the planet from out there, surrounded by the incredibly thin protective layer of atmosphere, helps one to wake up to the fragility of the small portion of the planet’s mass that we inhabit, and to the importance of protecting the Earth,” said Branson, who believes that the environmental and energy issues surrounding the fuel costs of space travel are misguided.
“I also believe that someday we will be able to use space as a source of energy for the planet, through solar power satellites, using the most sustainable source available – our sun,” he said.
Virgin Galactic is the first business to really try commercial space travel and Branson thinks it has the same potential for profit and growth as other technology industries before it, such as the mobile or web space.
“I believe we’ll unlock a wall of private sector money into both space launch systems and space technology.
“This could rival the scale of investment in the mobile phone and internet technologies after they were unlocked from their military origins and thrown open to the private sector.”
By Marie Boran
Pictured: Virgin Galactic’s ‘space tourist’ jet as it undocks from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft before heading into orbit