Written by Dabney B. on Friday, July 13th, 2012
The biennial Farnborough International Airshow near London is a major event in the world of European aviation. Typically, it’s an opportunity for aeronautic powerhouses Boeing and Airbus to technologically arm wrestle in order to impress potential clients. This year, however, filthy rich British tycoon Richard Branson stole the spotlight.
The founder of the Virgin Galactic Space Program showed up with a full size mock-up of his SpaceShipTwo (SS2) stealing everyone’s thunder by reminding the audience, “You could join me in space if you’re willing to pay the price.”
And what a price it will be. At £128,000 per ticket ($200,000), only the extremely wealthy will be able to afford a seat on this two-hour, 60-mile flight into space. That steep price tag hasn’t stopped people from signing up by the hundreds, though. A total of 529 people have purchased a ticket into space (that’s $105,800,000 in ticket sales so far). With only six passenger seats and two pilot seats, it’s going to take hundreds of flights to get all of these paying customers into space.
Branson stated, “It’s both an entrepreneurial and personal adventure in being able to build a spaceship and ask my children to come along.” Others who will be making the monumental flight into space include stylish celebrity Ashton Kutcher and genius physicist Stephen Hawking.
Bill Cullen, an author and businessman, was the first person to sign up for the trip eight years ago. Cullen represents a truly remarkable case: for countries like Ireland that don’t have a space program, the SS2 will allow Bill Cullen to make Irish history books. Cullen explained, “I wanted to be the first Irishman in space and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been interested in space ever since I followed comic hero Dan Dare when I was a kid.”
Cullen’s been waiting eight years for the chance to make history for his country, and he’ll have to wait a little longer. The flight won’t take place until late 2013 or early 2014.
SpaceShipTwo won’t get into space the same way as most other spacecraft. Rather than using a vertical launch with detachable rockets, SS2 will be carried high into the upper atmosphere by its mothership, Scaled Composites White Knight Two (WK2). The WK2 is composed of two identical but mirror-reverse aircraft that are connected at the wing. Together, they form the WK2 and will have enough power to carry the SS2 up to an altitude 50,000 ft (about nine-and-a-half miles).
At that point, the SS2 will break free and fire its hybrid rocket motor, which will cause it to surpass supersonic speeds within eight seconds and eventually achieve a peak velocity of 2,600 mph, which is more than three times the speed of sound. It will then cut off its engine and coast to its maximum altitude in space. After that, it will have a long, 25 minute glide back to Earth.
It truly promises to be the ultimate experience for civilians who have no other chance of entering space. I sent NASA a letter a while ago politely requesting that they send me into space (pretty please, with a cherry on top!) but I haven’t gotten an answer back. It seems that for people like me, my only real shot is to buy a ticket and ride the SS2 into space. Hmm, $200,000… I don’t really need a house, do I?
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