To date, fewer than 500 people have left this planet. Virgin Galactic’s “Founder” and “Pioneer” customers can therefore expect to be within the first 1,500 people to go to space.
The first 600 seats for this experience have now already sold, nine of them to New Zealanders, so please contact me if you’d like to join the growing number of ‘Future Astronauts’.
The trip into space and back is expected to last around two and a half hours.
The Experience: After three days of training, passengers will board the spaceship attached to a purpose-built carrier aircraft. WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) with SpaceShipTwo (SS2) attached takes off like a normal aircraft. SpaceShipTwo carries 6 passengers and 2 pilots.
After a 50 to 60-minute climb to 50,000ft/15km WK2 releases SS2. After a few seconds SS2’s onboard rocket motor is ignited. In less than 10-seconds SS2 is supersonic and in less than a minute is is traveling vertically out of the atmosphere at just under Mach 4. After a rocket burn lasting up to 90-seconds the rocket motor is shut down.
Immediately passengers will experience complete silence and will be able to float around the cabin for up to 4-minutes of weightlessness. Multiple porthole windows on SS2 will give passengers incredible views of up to 1,200km/750mi in any direction. They will be in the blackness of space. They will reach a peak altitude of around 110km/68mi. The widely accepted ‘space border’ is 100km/62mi.
The pilots will ‘feather’ the wings in preparation re-entry. Re-entry will last approximately 90-seconds. At around 70,000ft/21km the pilots will ‘de-feather’ the wings and SS2 will glide back to the same runway for up to 20-minutes.
The total flight time is up to 90-minutes from departure to return and passengers will experience up to 4-minutes of weightlessness.
Commercial operations will commence when the test flight program is complete, all necessary licenses and approvals have been obtained and when Virgin Galactic feel the system is as safe as possible. Several experienced staff are involved in designing and developing the Virgin Galactic customer experience. We want to create something that is as memorable and special as the spaceflight itself and that fully prepares our customers for their flight. Virgin Galactic are still formulating exactly what the full customer experience will be like. The final program will depend on flight testing, research and any government regulations that may apply.
Customers can expect to engage of 3 or 4 days of training & preparation at Spaceport America before taking their flight on the final day.
All training, required clothing, accommodation, food & beverages are included in the US$250,000 flight cost. Additional costs will be getting themselves to and from Spaceport America along with accommodation and transportation for any friends and family that wish to join them in New Mexico.
Customers will be accommodated in a hotel near Spaceport America where any loved ones will also stay. Their guests will not be able to participate in the training program but will be invited to Spaceport America to watch the actual flight.
Virgin Galactic plan to record the entire customer experience with a combination of video and still images that will be given to the customer.
Virgin Galactic are not yet sure if personal items will be allowed on the spaceflight such as cameras as there may be weight restrictions and safety considerations. We will know more about this once the test flight program has been completed.
Spaceport America is located in Southwestern New Mexico near Upham. The nearest airports are Alburquerque, New Mexico (3 hours drive) and El Paso, Texas (ELP/2 hours drive). The nearest towns of note are Truth or Consequences, NM (45-minute drive), Hatch, NM (45-minute drive) and Las Cruces, NM (1-hour drive).
The Gateway will house 2 x WhiteKnightTwo and 5 x SpaceShipTwo vehicles as well as astronaut training facilities, administrative offices, maintenance facilities and Mission Control. Virgin Galactic customers will complete their flight training and preparation at Spaceport America. Spaceport America is at an altitude of 4,600ft/1,400mt so less fuel is required for flights. It also enjoys a sunshine average of 340 days per year and clear weather is often a key factor in spaceflight launch and re-entry.