Runway unveiled for world's first 'tourist' spaceship (Update 3)

Oct 22, 2010 by Paula Bustamante

The world's first commercial passenger spaceship moved a step closer to takeoff, as tycoon Richard Branson unveiled a new runway at a remote New Mexico spaceport.

Branson and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson on Friday hosted a ceremony marking the completion of the main runway at Spaceport America, near the town of Las Cruces where the Virgin Galactic project is based.

"This is the beginning of the second space age and we are proud to have been supporters of this part of the story.

"From here we will see, perhaps daily flights into space, but also scientists, explorers of new opportunities beyond our planet," he told reporters.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, told AFP: "I am very happy that civilians will be able to reach space. I'd like to be one of the passengers on these flights, of course."

SpaceShipTwo, a six-seat craft which is scheduled to carry paying customers into suborbital space by early 2012, made its maiden flight above the Californian desert in March.

On Friday the aircraft -- re-named the VSS Enterprise -- flew high above the new two-mile (3.2-kilometer) long, 200-foot (60-meter) wide runway in tandem with its mothership, WhiteKightTwo or Eve.

The space ship is 60 feet (18 meters) long and its cabin is similar in size to a Falcon 900 executive jet, "allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity," according to the company.

Guests for Friday's ceremony included people who have already paid deposits and are just waiting for the day they go into space.

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 (VSS Enterprise)(Bottom) begins to glide toward earth on its first test flight after release from the mothership, "WhiteKnight2" (VMS Eve) over the Mojave, California on October 10. The world's first private passenger spaceship will pass another milestone toward its commercial lift-off at a remote spaceport in the New Mexico desert.

Virgin started taking deposits from people wanting to become astronauts in 2005, and has now collected 50 million dollars in deposits from more than 380 people willing to pay the 200,000 dollar ticket price, said Branson.

"Two hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money, but I think it's a fair price for this life experience," said New Zealand entrepreneur Devek Handley, 32.

Russian Igor Kutsenko, 36, an advertising company boss, said he plans to go into space with his 57-year-old mother and 59-year-old father.

"We will travel together as soon as Virgin Galactic makes space travel a reality. This has been the dream of my life," he said, adding that he had paid a deposit of 150,000 dollars each.

When it takes off, WK2 will carry SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15 kilometers) before dropping the smaller spaceship and allowing it to fire up its rocket motor to blast up to the brink of space.

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.

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 (VSS Enterprise) glides toward earth on its first test flight after release from the mothership, "WhiteKnight2" (VMS Eve) over the Mojave, California area on October 10. 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.

Branson said that, while initially the spaceship will remain suborbital, "in time we'll go to orbital flights. And, you know, one day ... we hope to build a hotel in space," he added.

Virgin officials are "also thinking about intercontinental travel at a fraction of the time that it currently takes to go from, you know, say America to Australia."

Governor Richardson added: "In about 10 years we will probably be making transcontinental flights in amazing period of time, like going to Russia in less than two hours."

Branson is also planning to take his mum and dad into space.

"I suppose one of the privileges of owning the spaceship company is I'm able to take my family up," said Branson. "So my father and mother keep saying 'hurry up,' because they're entering their 90s now."

His parents "very much want to go. And obviously, being weightless with the aches and pains they won't have to worry about. They'll be floating about," added the British entrepreneur.

But safety is paramount, he insisted. "We'll do many, many, many test flights over the next 12 months to maybe 18 months before we actually send people up into space.

"But we're entering the last stages of the test program and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel now," he added.

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LivaN
2 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2010

"small satellites into space" for the benefit of schools and universities.


That's the excuse I'll use, when I launch my iron cannon.

Wow, think how powerfull Virgin will be if it has a space monopoly. Between Google, Microsoft, and Virgin...who will control the world in 2050?
JES
4.5 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2010
Need to work on my priorities, live extremely long and get cash for tickets
ShotmanMaslo
3 / 5 (4) Oct 22, 2010
Google, Microsoft, and Virgin...who will control the world in 2050?


Id say Google, Facebook, and SpaceX/Bigelow.. :p

Virgins SpaceShipTwo is more like a glorified plane with a rocket, but it does not achieve orbit. Real spaceships fly much faster.
alq131
3 / 5 (1) Oct 22, 2010
It's fascinating to watch the dawn of a new industry. Just as we didn't see Wells Fargo Railroads last, or a Burlington-Northern airlines, we won't see Delta Spacelines.

The real innovations here could be as a stepping stone to orbital or hypersonic craft. Using a version of SS2 as a booster for a SCRAM jet is a possibility. Imagine same-day Fedex shipping globally...or a global response military fast action force (SEALS?) that can be anywhere in less than 6 hours.
Tangent2
2.8 / 5 (4) Oct 22, 2010
It's just a shame that it took this long to get going. Branson had signed on with Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne design back in 2004 when the technology was demonstrated. In 2004, Branson had cited a timeframe of between 2007-2008 the first commercial flights would take place. Now, nearly double that timeframe citation later, it 'might' happen in mid 2012. I will believe it when I see it.
ironjustice
2 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2010
"Rival airlines Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific are being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) over price-fixing allegations"

WHY is this guy not in jail ?
Quantum_Conundrum
2 / 5 (4) Oct 22, 2010
This is precisely what is wrong with our system today.

While the company and it's investors may make money, this entire thing is ultimately a waste of resources that could be better spent on a real space program or other technological research.

It might make some people on wall street happy for a few years, but after that, nothing.

It would be better if somebody just figured out how to mine space rocks and do something usefull with them.
DamienS
4.4 / 5 (7) Oct 22, 2010
It would be better if somebody just figured out how to mine space rocks and do something usefull with them.

And how do you propose people get into space to mine space rocks? It ain't gonna happen through a government funded agency like NASA. You need access to space to become cheap(ish) and routine and what better way than to have a private space company with a track record in entrepreneurship to get the ball rolling. Once a viable, profitable industry gets established, the sky's *not* the limit!
zevkirsh
3.5 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2010
still has yet to approach anywhere near outerspace......the -----The Kármán line lies at an altitude of 100 kilometres (62 mi) above the Earth's sea level, and is commonly used to define the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space.[2] This definition is accepted by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which is an international standard setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics.
The line was named after Theodore von Kármán, (1881–1963) a Hungarian-American engineer and physicist who was active primarily in the fields of aeronautics and astronautics. He first calculated that around this altitude the Earth's atmosphere becomes too thin for aeronautical purposes (because any vehicle at this altitude would have to travel faster than orbital velocity in order to derive sufficient aerodynamic lift from the atmosphere to support itself). Also, there is an abrupt increase in atmospheric temperature and interaction with solar radiation.
blank_black
4 / 5 (1) Oct 22, 2010
anyone have the co-ordinates for the location of spaceport on Google Earth?
Quantum_Conundrum
3 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2010
DamienS:

Access to space will never become cheap or mundane, even with fusion rockets.

You miss the point. For mining to ever be profitable to Earth itself, you need a space colony either in orbit around the sun, outside earth's gravitational influence, OR on a low gravity object such as the Moon or Mars. You also need as much of the process as possible (90-99%) to be fully automated, and finally, you need as much of the mining equipment as possible (90-99%) to be constructed in space, not on Earth.

This is one reason why in the past I suggested using nano-machines in combination with 1/6th scale excavators initially because it would save so much on launch costs. When these robots collect and refine enough material, then they can make the full scale machines.
bluehigh
3 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2010
These rides are about having fun and enjoying the fruit of technology and are not about working in mines or doing astrophysics research.
DamienS
4.8 / 5 (5) Oct 23, 2010
And QC you've missed my point, which was that there has to be a private, economics based driver (ie something that is profitable) before the whole sector can take off, including automated solutions like you describe. Relying on government handouts isn't the answer.

I remember at one stage there was talk that NASA should get out of the space-trucking business, when the shuttles were still shiny and new, to handover to a private 'freight' company. That never happened because the shuttles were too expensive and labor intensive with poor turnaround times to be profitable. On the other hand, Virgin galactic was designed to be profitable from the get go. And no, it doesn't have anywhere near the capabilities of the shuttle, but it's a start and it can snowball pretty quickly, which was my point.
Burnerjack
4.7 / 5 (3) Oct 24, 2010
Although it is nowhere near the capability of the Space Shuttle, and I have no idea was was spent on the endeavor, I've just got to commend Mr.Rutan and Sir Branson on the relative cost/benefit ratio of what has been acheived thus far.
A truly amazing achievement for private capitalism (IMHO).
Skeptic_Heretic
4.5 / 5 (2) Oct 25, 2010
I applaud Branson for doing what no one in the education or technology industries has done for decades.

He's revitalized the dream of space travel for a great many people who thought it would never come in their lifetime. Branson has effectively shown why goal-less space programs are useless. It's brought many people to a point where they dream of doing the impossible again. You may not like the guy, but he's brought enough to the table to get the populations of the world to start putting pressure on their space programs for more substance.
BrianH
not rated yet Oct 28, 2010
DamienS:

Access to space will never become cheap or mundane, even with fusion rockets.

...
This is one reason why in the past I suggested using nano-machines in combination with 1/6th scale excavators initially because it would save so much on launch costs. When these robots collect and refine enough material, then they can make the full scale machines.

It doesn't have to be either cheap or nano to make asteroid mining pay. A single 1-mi. diameter nickle-iron rock nudged into Earth orbit could readily be mined (much of the material is already separated out) for as much precious metal as has been mined groundside in all history. Worth about 6 quadrillion$ ($6 x 10^15) at current prices. $1 million US per living human.