Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company, has presented a new program to Russian citizens. There are currently nine Russian citizens in the group of 250 individuals expecting to fly into space. A ticket to near space is not cheap - $200,000. This is a lot less than a trip to the International Space Station. However, the new trip pales in comparison with a flight to the orbit.
The company promises to organize a flight above Earth’s surface at the height of 100 kilometers. A conventional jetliner usually flies at the height of ten kilometers. The supersonic Concorde aircraft used to fly 22 kilometers above the ground. The ISS is currently 345.6 kilometers away from Earth. Therefore, a flight at the height of 100 kilometers is neither a common plane flight nor a flight into space. However, both the tourist spacecraft and the ISS fly in Earth’s ionosphere, which starts from 80-90 kilometers above the surface and ends about 800 kilometers from the planet.
Virgin Galactic has already started to accept payments from space passengers. The company promises to launch its flights already in 2010. The date of the first flight has not been exposed yet. Nevertheless, the number of people willing to fly into space is quite impressive – 85,000. Two hundred and fifty would-be passengers have already made their payments, either partially or in full.
Timur Artemyev, a co-owner of Euroset, one of Russia’s largest mobile retailers, has already become one of space passengers. The businessman originally intended to fly alone, but then decided to book a ticket for his wife too. “I hope that we will become the first family couple in space,” Artemyev said.
Another Russian entrepreneur, Igor Kutsenko, said at a press conference that he had reserved two more tickets for some of his friends. His business colleague, Sergei Tyaglov, 38, told Interfax-AVN: “I was worried about Igor’s suggestion for it is quite possible not to come back home, but I do want to fly. It is very interesting.” The two businessmen have successfully passed all pre-flight tests in the USA and were listed as fit for suborbital flights.
Commercial space flights will be conducted from a private space port in New Mexico, the USA. SpaceShip Two will be taken to the orbit on board carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo, which has the wingspan of 42 meters.
The spaceship is designed to carry six passengers and two members of the crew. Four powerful engines Pratt and Whitney PW308A installed on the carrier aircraft will take SpaceShip Two at the height of ten kilometers and subsequently undock from the craft. Afterwards, the ship will continue its flight to upper layers of the atmosphere where it will cross the line between space and the atmosphere.
SpaceShip Two will be able to perform two flights a day. Aerospace pioneer Bart Rutan, the head of the company that designed the tourist spacecraft, said that the company would be able to operate 40 spaceships and 15 carriers for 12 years.
The interior of SpaceShip Two is reminiscent to that of Golfstream, a business class airplane. The program of every flight also includes several minutes of weightlessness. Passengers will be able to watch their flight through wide (46 cm) windows.