Virgin Galactic Approved for Take-Off in a Giant Leap for Space Tourism
Richard Branson's dream to bring space tourism to life is reaching its final frontier as a new agreement made with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officially gives Virgin Galactic approval to begin spaceflights for their paying customers later this year. The deal spells out just how Virgin Galactic will execute the launches of their spaceflights from the Spaceport America launch site in New Mexico.
The agreement sets policy for how these routing space missions will be coordinated with the National Airspace System. This includes setting up protocol for how Virgin will use airports, air traffic controllers, radar, communication tools, and airspace. Virgin also finalized agreements with the US Army's White Sands Missile Range and Edwards Air Force Base. These new deals are big milestones that will make it easier for Virgin Galactic to continue test flights and to start their planned commercial flights.
But it hasn't been all smooth sailing recently for Branson, as Virgin Galactic's new rival, Elon Musk's SpaceX, has just unveiled its new model for a manned spacecraft called the Dragon2. SpaceX has hopes that this latest Dragon ship will soon be used to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. With two major players of the business world dead set on expanding their ventures into space, it seems we are witnessing the start of a new, commercial space race!
Not one to let SpaceX steal his thunder entirely, Branson shared, "After we're done the space program, we will be producing supersonic planes, which will go far, far faster than the Concord." He announced exciting new plans to build a line of supersonic commercial planes that can fly at 19,000 miles per hour. To put this number in perspective, these planes will be able to fly between New York City and Tokyo in under an hour. He promises that, even though this technology seems too advanced to be available in the near future, he intends to bring this new technology to fruition during his own lifetime.
While Virgin Galactic is still in its testing phases, and it still needs to clear some big hurdles including safety audits, environmental checks, and insurance deals before its big debut, over 600 people have already purchased seats for a trip on SpaceShipTwo for approximately $200,000. There have been recent reports that the Virgin Galactic passengers may only reach heights of about 50 miles, which will not quite cross the Karmen Line (the official boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space). Nonetheless, there's still a great deal of fanfare surrounding this major step for commercial spaceflight.
Credit: Virgin Galactic