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How about Paris for the weekend, or a two-week trip around Southeast Asia? Forget itthat's so 2014, so terrestrial. Should Virgin Galactic have their way, 2015 will be the year you book a vacation of suborbital space travel, or perhaps a supersonic 45-minute flight from California to London.
This month SpaceShipTwo completed her 54th test flight, improving the odds that next year will indeed be the one to finally kick off space tourism. In fact, Virgin Galactic has already begun the big move from Mojave, CA to Las Cruces, NM, the latter being home to Spaceport America and, hopefully soon, flights to space full of paying passengers (6, to be specific, plus 2 pilots).
Seeing as the US treats spaceship technology with something of the same intense secrecy as defense technology, much of what Virgin Galactic's been up to out in their hangar in the California desert is hush-hush top secret. The 10th Anniversary of their Ansari X Prize win however opened up a small window for us to peek behind those massive doors. Here's what we can tell (and show!) you:
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We have been following the goings-on from the folks over at Virgin Galactic for quite some time, and it seems like only a matter of time before tickets are offered up for sale and passengers head towards the great beyond.
Things are getting one step closer, as Virgin Galactic recently submitted all kinds of paperwork and presentations to Uncle Sam and his buddies over at the Federal Aviation Administration. Thankfully everyone seems to be onboard with the plan, and that means we’re one step closer to taking off into outer space.
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Fearless prediction: this is going to get solved before it becomes a problem. There are too many famous people involved, there is too much money at stake, and the optics would be catastrophic. Can you imagine how this would play out in the media? "Washington DC has become so inefficient that it's blocking actual real life we're-living-in-the-future space tourism."
Federal agencies can be cumbersome and individual bureacrats can be petty. But if the FAA actually jams up the launch of a Virgin Galactic space jet - which people say might actually happen - we can finally and safely assume that literally nobody is in charge of anything any more. Seriously. It would look so horrible that we don't understand how anyone is even allowed to go on the record saying it's a possibility.
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You know we like to follow the goings on of Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic project, and now we’ll be able to do from the comfort of our couch. Virgin Galactic is teaming up with the mastermind behind shows like Survivor and The Voice—Mark Burnett—to launch a reality show to give away a ride into space.
Details are limited at this point, but we’d imagine that things would follow the basic premise of pretty much all reality shows. Unique personalities, wacky competitions, and plenty of drama should lead to a show worthy of a spot on our DVR. We do know that the show will be called "Space Race," and the big winner will get a ride aboard SpaceShipTwo.
It's crazy to think that Spaceport America, the middle-of-nowhere New Mexico base for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, has already been open for just over two years. We may not yet have regular flights to space, but while that day grows nearer the public is very welcome to come have a look around.
The Spaceport, located in the Chihuahuan Desert 150 miles south of Albuquerque, actually offers public tours aimed at "giving guests an up close look at the spaceflight facilities before operations begin." The tours have grown so popular that the tour operators, Follow The Sun Inc., have changed the pick-up point to a more central location (The Holiday Inn, with free breakfast!) in the hot springs town of Truth or Consequences.
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We haven’t heard that much from Virgin Galactic recently, but that doesn’t mean the space ship team hasn’t been hard at work behind the scenes. They’re still doing their very best to ensure that space tourism becomes a reality sooner than later. That’s definitely good, since from what it sounds like, the space flight carrier already has more than a few customers on the books and ready to go.
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two just finished its latest round of testing, and thankfully things all went according to plan. The latest aerial endeavor was known as a "cold flow” test. They haven't lit the rocket engines on this sucker just yet, but it means they've completed pretty much everything else—so that means they’re ready for the next step. The ship’s contrail was even visible for the first time, so now we know how awesome the thing will look like when it blasts away from earth.
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It’s not exactly time to bust out the celebration champagne just yet, but it sounds like Virgin Galactic is starting to make some serious progress in the commercial space race. There’s been roughly 75 test flights of WhiteKnightTwo—that’s the carrier plane—as well as several SpaceShipTwo voyages.
SpaceShipTwo will eventually do its thing as the suborbital space ship, and its been doing its best to glide back down to the ground after being dropped high in the sky from WhiteKnightTwo.
The real excitement and testing is going to come as soon as this summer, as that’s when they’ll fire up the rockets to send SpaceShipTwo a little bit higher into the sky. The goal is to eventually reach around 62 miles or so above the earth, where paying passengers can get a glimpse of the curvature of globe, the darkness of space, and experience sweet, sweet weightlessness. If all goes well it sounds like this might be possible by the end of the year, but it would only be the spaceship making the journey—no paying passengers just yet.
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Here's the thing, thoughSpaceport America has already been "open" now since May, when their three-hour tours began. Today was just all the official pomp and circumstance, plus a little show-off flight from SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo.
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The United States doesn't really have a space travel program any more, inasmuch as our leaders found better and more inspirational programs to fund than ones that have astronauts literally reaching for the stars (e.g. empty rural airports in the home states of powerful Senators).
The problem is that NASA still has engineers and scientists who need to run experiments in low-gravity and no-gravity conditions, and they'd kind of like to keep doing some of those. So agency officials looked around, scratched their collective heads, and checked if there was still anyone still doing that space flight thing.
And that's the short version of how Virgin Galactic became NASA's official sub-contracter. The press release is here, and if you click through make sure you at least read the bolded quote in the middle of the release. It's the longest string of words that mean the least that you'll ever encounter.
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Branson dressed as a boxer. He's quite the knockout (get it?).
After much scientific testing, complicated measuring and grueling research, we've come to the very important conclusion that it is impossible to think Virgin Group main man Sir Richard Branson is anything but extremely awesome. C'monthe man kite-boards with naked models, says he wants to build a spaceship and then actually does it, saves the world daily with his many charities, and yet still has time to sit down with us for a quick chat.
We last caught up with Sir Richard onboard Virgin America's inaugural flight to Chicago-O'Hare. As for all other monumental occasions in his family of Virgin brands, Branson donned a fun costume and parades around for the cameras, bursting with vim and vigor. This got us thinking. What costume, after all these years of dressing wacky for promotional stunts, does Richard really wish he could wear? So we asked him.
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Planning to hit happy hour tonight after work? We have something for toast to: the opening of Spaceport America, which represents yet another step closer to making space tourism a possibility. The Spaceport, located in the Mojave Desert in New MexicoAlbuquerque is 150 miles to the southonly just completed its runway in October and is already open for public tours.
This comes at the most opportune time; just as the sun is going down on the NASA space program and the space shuttles retired, Virgin Galactic's new wave spaceships enter the spotlight.
The AP has the news first, of course, that Virgin Galactic's facilities will host the first tour this Friday, a tour aimed at "giving guests an up close look at the spaceflight facilities before operations begin," which is later this year if all continues to go according to plan.
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Obviously "affordable" is a relative concept when it comes to space tourism. But we've been telling you for a while to keep your fingers crossed for competition between Virgin Galactic and potential rivals, if only because that way we can all dream about one day maybe flying in a sub-orbital. Prices aren't going to drop in the next few years for a bunch of reasons, from the fact that Virgin Galactic is the only company building a spaceportwhich kind of puts a damper on competitionto the simple high costs of flying people into space.
Even at this early stage, though, serious people are beginning to envision how space tourism might become more available to more people. Virgin Galactic's former President Will Whitehorn just gave a far-reaching talk on the topic, and he predicted that ticket prices would drop from their current price of $200,000 to below $100,000.