21May2017

Virgin’s Space Flights Fully Booked Until 2021

The original SpaceShipOne on a test flight. Photo: Scaled

The original SpaceShipOne on a test flight. Photo: Scaled

The maiden commercial flight of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is scheduled to take place next year but if you haven’t already paid $250,000 for the trip of a lifetime, it’ll be at least three years before you are space-bound.

That was the view of Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough, who was recently brought to Australia by Deutsche Bank for a presentation at the State Libary of Victoria.

Mr Attenborough also used his visit to meet a number of Australians who have already paid for their ticket on the spacecraft, including the nation’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.

In late April Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo craft, called VSS Unity, successfully conducted a breakthrough test flight. The first SpaceShipTwo craft, VSS Enterprise, crashed during tests in 2014, killing one of its pilots.

Then this month a new “feathering’’ test, where the twin tails of the spacecraft fold up to provide aerodynamic braking as it re-enters the earth’s atmosphere, was successful.

A malfunction of the tails due to pilot error was responsible for the fatal VSS Enterprise crash in 2014.

“We are a better and safer company as a result of that incident. One of the outcomes of testing is failure. We live in a risk averse world and it can come as a shock when something like that happens,’’ Mr Attenborough told the State Library audience, which included ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott.

“We have (since) looked at every element of the vehicle and every element of the operation.’’

Virgin Galactic is locked in a race with the likes of private firms Blue Origin and billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk’s Space X to be the first private company to successfully send commercial passengers into space.

Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots to an altitude of about 100km above the Earth, where they will spend two hours enjoying the experience of weightlessness.

Already 650 people have bought tickets to fly, including celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. But if you bought a ticket today, you would get to the front of the queue by around 2021, according to Mr Attenborough.

Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough.

He said beyond thrillseeking, Virgin Galactic also had ambitions to grow into the space tourism, space cargo and space science sectors. “There is great science that can be done in space. That has been known for a long time. It is a different environment from earth,’’ he said.

“The spaceship has been designed so you can take the seats out and put science racks in. Interestingly the first tickets that have been sold to science have been sold to NASA.’’ Mr Attenborough said Virgin Galactic was also eyeing the booming satellite market as more private individuals and corporates look to launch their own device into space.

“There is a lot of money going into satellites. They are becoming smaller and smarter and cheaper and lighter. Anyone can own a satellite but few can get it into space,’’ he said. Virgin Galactic is aiming to be able to launch satellites into orbit from the top of a custom-made 747 aircraft that will fly at an altitude above 50,000 feet.

“We will give customers the destination they want at the time that they want with their satellite of choice,’’ he said. Source: Virgin’s space flights fully booked until 2021

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