Virgin Galactic has released final designs of the launch system that is to be used in its commercial venture to put fare paying passengers into space. When the project is completed in 2010 passengers will be able to experience up to six minutes of weightlessness for a cost of around £100,000.
Unveiled at the American Museum of Natural History, the model of SpaceShipTwo is the vehicle that will take passengers 62 miles above the earth, with test flights already scheduled for later this year.
The main aim of designers in test flights is to ensure the safety of the system after three people were killed when a tank of nitrous oxide exploded in a test of SpaceShipTwo’s propellant system.
Will Whitehorn, president of Branson’s space-tourism company, Virgin Galactic, said “construction on the White Knight Two is more than 70 percent complete.”
When completed SpaceShipTwo will be carried by its carrier WhiteKnightTwo, where it will be launched mid-flight carrying six passengers and two crew. The craft will drop from the twin cabin high altitude jet which can also double as a space tourist training craft.
WhiteKnightTwo itself has a wingspan of 140ft and is built to handle unmanned rockets, and is capable of launching small payloads such as satellites into orbit. The SpaceShipTwo itself is based upon the X-Prize winning SpacShipOne concept, a rocket ship that was launched in flight before blasting skywards.
“I think it’s very important that we make a genuine commercial success of this project, if we do, I believe we’ll unlock a wall of private sector money into both space launch systems and space technology” Richard Branson said on his latest commercial venture
So far Virgin Galactic has already taken 200 prospective bookings from 30 countries accounting for millions of dollars already being on the books.
Virgin Galactic is just one of several companies aiming to offer space trips in the near future. Competitors include the entrepreneur of Amazon.com Jeff Bezos who has his own scheme, as does the Paypal founder, Elon Musk. Even Europe’s EADS Astrium, the company that coordinates the manufacture of the Ariane 5 rocket, is developing a commercial suborbital ship.