According to billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic is on schedule to offer commercial space travel within 18 months…and clearly not content with relaunching the Virgin Hotel brand internationally, he announced that space hotels are next on the drawing board.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo, an aircraft built by aviation engineer Burt Rutan and designed to carry paying customers into suborbital space, had its first crewed flight in the California desert in July.
“We just finished building SpaceShipTwo. We are 18 months away from taking people into space,” Branson recently told a business conference in Kuala Lumpur, adding that the fare will start at US$200,000.
Virgin Galactic aims to become the world’s first commercial company to promote space tourism and has already received US$45 million in deposits from 330 customers eager to get a glimpse of space and more than 100,000 people have shown serious interest in the US$200,000 ride. Naturally, the usual affluent suspects have already registered an interest, including actors, rock stars and Formula One drivers.
Branson also has visions of establishing hotels in space, which well-heeled tourists can use as a base for shuttle flights over the moon.
“We are looking at hotels in space. We love the moon,” the tycoon said, adding that he was also interested in launching “small satellites into space” for the benefit of schools and universities.
Space tourism is proving popular with the immensely rich. Just recently Boeing announced it is to sell tickets for a rocket ride to the International Space Station. The airline manufacturer said Space Adventures will sell seats on its planned CST-100, which would carry seven people. Space Adventures Ltd has already been selling seats aboard the Russian-built Soyuz spaceship. Its last passenger was Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, who paid US$35 million for a 10-day trip.
The key to Virgin’s design is overcoming the two most dangerous stages in space travel: launch and re-entry. The SpaceShipTwo is released from the underbelly of its carrier aircraft, White Knight Two, at an altitude of 15km. Once it breaks free, it will fire its rockets and take six very wealthy passengers on a 2 ½ hour ride into the Earth’s thermosphere at approximately three times the speed of sound. This eliminates the risks involved in igniting an enormous amount of highly flammable fuel on a launch pad.
Once it has reached suborbital space, SpaceShipTwo passengers will be able to view the Earth from portholes next to their seats, or unbuckle their seatbelts and float in zero gravity.
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• Sir Richard to relaunch Virgin Hotels
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