Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson is nothing if not ambitious.
Not content with flying passengers across the Atlantic, he’s now unveiled an aircraft to be used to launch tourists into space. The high-altitude jet will act as the mother-ship for a spacecraft, releasing it in mid-air to take two crew and six passengers on sub-orbital flights.
A hundred or so people have already paid £100,000 ($200,000) each to be among the first to make the tourist trips – among them, apparently, the actress, Victoria Principal, who also wants to pilot the spacecraft. Sir Richard predicts the maiden voyage will take place in 18 months.
A crowd of engineers, dignitaries and space enthusiasts gathered inside a hangar in the Mojave Desert in California for the unveiling of WhiteKnightTwo, Eve (the Eve bit is in honour of Sir Richard’s mother). Virgin Galactic commissioned the innovative aerospace designer Burt Rutan to build the mother-ship and spacecraft at his factory in California.
The mother-ship is a white, four-engined jet designed to cradle SpaceShipTwo under its wing and release it at 50,000 feet in the air. Once separated, SpaceShipTwo will fire its hybrid rocket and climb some 60 miles above the Earth.
But Sir Richard is clearly looking to the long-term, envisaging many tens of thousands of people taking holidays in space.
“Let’s go twenty years forward,” he said. “If all this goes to plan, I hope that we will have a hotel in space; and in that hotel I hope we will have small spaceships that can offer an excursion around the moon.”
If it happens to be a luxury boutique hotel in space, be assured that it will be a welcome addition to Luxique’s stable and we’ll get you the best rates (after all, you’ve probably paid the earth for the flights).
by Andy Moreton