Saturday, October 23, 2010

Virgin Galactic to begin Suborbital Flights

Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight arm of Sir Richard Branson's empire, announced Friday that it would be the anchor tenant for the $198 million dollar space port building built 45 mile north of Las Cruses, New Mexico. Named Spaceport America, it will stretch across the flat dusty plain of the desert with a nearly two-mile-long runway designed to support almost every type of aircraft on Earth (or at least her skies). It will also provide support of day-to-day space tourism endeavors and payload launch operations.

Unlike today's space tourism ventures that require the tourist to plunk down $20 million dollars, ride up to the International Space Station and sit around in the Russian habit for two weeks. Virgin Galactic has commissioned Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites, the winner of the Ansri X-Prize, to design and build WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. The first of Virgin Galactic's five ships will be named Enterprise and will carry 6 passengers and 2 pilots on a 2.5 hour suborbital flight where they will experience 5 minutes of weightlessness (the seats will retract to give the passengers the full use of the cabin for that 5 minutes) before returning to the New Mexican desert.

SpaceShipTwo, once it has been released from its lifting body WhiteKnightTwo at an altitude of around 9 miles, will reach a speed of roughly 2500 mph using a single hybrid rocket engine. Unlike the Space Shuttle that descends at 160,000 mph and needs a sophisticated heat dissipation system (the shuttle heat tiles), SpaceShipTwo will re-enter at speeds low enough to us a feathered re-retry system.

A ticket for one of these suborbital flights will be $200,000 and the company already has 380 individuals who have put down more that $50 million in deposits for a ride. Though Sir Branson says he and his family will be one of the first passengers to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment