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Virgin Galactic prepares for spaceflights

By David Flynn     Filed under: Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic

UPDATE | Virgin Galactic is gearing up for its planned commercial spaceflights later this year, partnering with NM Hotels on the ground.

Astronauts will stay at the Hotel Encantado de Las Cruces in New Mexico as part of the multi-day experience, which includes a tour of the Virgin Galactic Spaceship factory in Mojave.

PREVIOUS | Sir Richard Branson expects Virgin Galactic to begin commercial spaceflights next year – carrying passengers who've paid as much as US$250,000 each for the privilege.

Earlier this year Branson pegged December 25th as the launch date for Virgin Galactic's first service with paying passengers, saying  "I will be going up on the first flight, which I hope will be about December 25th of this year" said the Virgin-branding billionaire, "so maybe I'll dress up as Father Christmas."

But while the British billionaire looks set to stay grounded this Christmas, 2014 could prove the year that his ambitious space programme finally takes wing.

The first flights will last for two and a half hours and include four minutes of weightlessness as the eight-seater shuttle nudges the edge of space at some 360,000 feet above the Earth's surface.

Each booking doesn't just secure your spot in the queue – you'll also enjoy a series of special events leading up to the launch, including spending time with Branson on his private island, doing G-Force training at the NASTAR centre plus a 'behind the scenes' tour of Virgin Galactic's Spaceship factory in Mojave.

However, the real prize for Virgin Galactic is moving beyond 'space tourism' for the well-heeled, towards scheduled services which will be to this generation (or the next) what the supersonic Concorde was to the 1980s and 1990s.

Branson believes that trips between London and Sydney taking a handful of hours would be possible in his lifetime, with Virgin Galactic expecting to eventually offer five commercial flights a day.

How Virgin Galactic's sub-orbital flights work

Virgin Galactic's space carrier is an aircraft in two parts, with the 'White Knight Two' transporter cradling the smaller 'SpaceShipTwo' passenger craft beneath its wings.

White Knight Two, which is smaller than a Boeing 737, lifts off from a normal runway and climbs at subsonic speeds to 50,000 feet (just over 15,000 metres).

At this point SpaceShipTwo -- half the width of the 737 and only 18 metres (60 feet) long – detaches and fires its own boosters  to soar to 110,000 metres.

At this height, with the atmosphere becoming thinner and friction from air decreasing, the passenger shuttle can hit speeds of 4,000 km/h before turning off its engines, coasting along near the rim of space and gliding down to earth.

(The White Knight Two carrier vehicle has long since headed home to pick up its next cargo.)

Sydney-London in four hours: the Kangaroo Route in 2050

As nice as 'space tourism' is, the real prize for Branson will be a return to the superfast era of the Concorde – only this time even quicker, with scheduled sub-orbital shuttles to whisk you from Sydney to London in four hours.

As previously reported by Australian Business Traveller, Brett Godfrey – former founding CEO of Virgin Blue, long-time Branson buddy and holder of a ticket into space – believes that sub-orbital services will be "the next level" beyond supersonic, with substantial appeal to business travellers.

"In another 10 or 15 years it will be $20,000 – it will be no more than a first-class ticket somewhere" Godfrey said, "and then eventually they will be able to get a slightly bigger rocket with a bit more fuel and they'll be able to get it so it goes trans-continental and then around the world."

"It may not be in my lifetime that it goes commercial but I think it probably will."

With London and Sydney being just over 17,000 km apart, SpaceShipTwo travelling at 4,000 km/h and the earth far below spinning at 1,700 km/h, that's almost exactly three hours from Sydney Harbour to the Thames.

Add half an hour for liftoff and half an hour to glide down, and you turn the long-haul Kangaroo Route into a breezy four hour hop – less time than it currently takes from Sydney to Perth.

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About David Flynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

 

Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 30/9/13 by johnnysfo

WOW I am still amazed that we can carry people in the air on the A380 for a 15 hours duration;-) now the thought of London-Sydney in 4 hours, that I will wanna wait and experience in my lifetime.

2 on 30/9/13 by Ben84

Like Brunel's SS Great Eastern, the aconcorde was simply ahead of its time. For sure we will see 4 hour kangaroo hops within 20 years. 

Some of us may even live to see the end of planetary air travel, with the possibility to demolecularise in one location and remolecuralise at another - leaving Sydney at 12.05pm and arriving in London at 12.06pm (AEST). 

Air travel will simply be for planet to moon / Mars / space station resort journeys. 

Im talking another 200 years away. The way medical science is going, younger people may very well get to live that long (and even longer). 

3 on 30/9/13 by tronixstuff

I wonder how many points and SCs you get with Virgin Galactic? :)

1 on 30/9/13 by jonom

Velocity currently offers 1 Million points on pioneer seats once travel is completed. No SC's available.

http://www.velocityrewards.com.au/content/Earn/TravelExtras/

4 on 30/9/13 by Darkavid99

I think the real future of transportation has to be anti grav tunnels. Untilising Mag Lev type trains which can currently theoritcally go at any speed only hampered by gravity. With no moving parts and underground tunnels with the air completely sucked out, trains could theoritically travel at over 10,000 Km/h.

Better for the environment, safer and less maintenance.

Not as sexy though...

1 on 9/7/14 by spentan

You've been reading about Elon Musk's Hyperloop?

As a Tesla Owner, I am very interested in his work :)

5 on 30/9/13 by Adam

I'm so over reading about Branson's Galactic flights. At  over $200k for 6-8min (or about there) it's no more than a 'joy ride'  for the obscenely rich and even richer. It's hardly going to make anyone's  business travel more seamless. Maybe I'm the sour new but honestly, I see these articles and just roll my eyes. 

1 on 30/9/13 by Ben84

It's the pioneering days of the next generation of business travel. 

In 50 years time it is likely business travellers will be making flights across the world in no time at all. 

A revolution in air travel is upon us. It is pretty exciting. 

I guess for those who are already well advanced in age this isn't as exciting - that's understandable. 

1 on 1/10/13 by watson374

Once upon a time, flying in one of two wicker seats shoved down the back of a converted two-seat close-air-support single-engine biplane was "no more than a 'joy ride'  for the obscenely rich and even richer".

Your argument is invalid.

6 on 1/10/13 by Adam

I believe Boeing and Airbus have invested considerably more to aviation and pioneership of flight for millions of more common people than Virgin Galatic and Richard Branson. Come what may in a hundred years but today what I know is that I can fly in amazing flying machines for a reasonable price. I may have been shoved down the back on my last flight, but it was an ok seat and certainly wasn't a wicker one. 

7 on 9/7/14 by undertheradar

the big question...will these aircraft have WIFI?? .... as some people just cant seem to function without staring at/being attatched to a 'mobile device', wherever they are!! LOL

 

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