Richard Branson is a pioneering British entrepreneur, renowned for his innovative thinking, and hitting the headlines in doing so. When in New York, talking about his latest B-Team initiatives, Branson was grilled a little further on the future of space travel. It comes as no surprise that the founder of Virgin Group is cogitating over whether to launch a much cheaper form of space flight.
Cheaper Space Flights
Talking to Business Insider, Branson indicated that he had another idea, with regards to making space flight a viable opportunity for a broader market.
Alas, these new developments are unlikely to be implemented anytime soon, if the businessman’s latest remarks are anything to go by. The billionaire tycoon indicated that space tourism would remain very costly over the next decade. However, he suggests these extreme costs will, eventually, help to drive down the prices.
Although it will take some time for Branson’s big plans to come to fruition, an announcement could be made within the next four months:
“We do have another idea, which we’re going to announce in about four months time, which will enable people to travel into space very cheaply – not everybody, but quite a few people who never expected to go into space, but we’re going to unveil that in about four months time.”
The interviewers pushed for a little more information on the subject, to which Branson responded with laughter. He claimed that he had already divulged too many details, and quickly moved on.
During Wednesday, a collection of 300 paying customers were ushered into the Mojave Desert to witness a test flight of SpaceShipTwo (SS2), a suborbital, air-launched spaceplane, specially customized for commercial use. Unfortunately, weather conditions were not permitting, and the demonstration was delayed.
The craft was constructed by The Spaceship Company, which is owned by Virgin Galactic. However, only during April of this year, have the team conducted a powered test flight, using the SS2, following a number of years of unpowered testing.
During 2014, Virgin aims to utilize a total of five SS2 spaceplanes to commence its passenger-carrying service, with bookings already having commenced. As is to be expected, the private flights are certainly not cheap, with initial bookings amounting to $200,000, per ticket. Worse still, the price was bumped up by 25%, to reflect changes in inflation; tickets are now being distributed for the handsome sum of $250,000 for the first 1,000 travelers.
SS2 is an air-launched craft, which will be delivered to an altitude of 50,000 feet by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. SS2 will then be released at this height, where upon it will climb to over 360,000 feet, propelled by its own rocket engine.
SS2 to Aid in Scientific Research?
Branson has also expressed interest in using his space tourism program to aid in scientific ventures. The spaceplanes have been custom designed to ensure all seats can be easily removed, allowing installation of scientific paraphernalia.
Speaking at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, Will Pomerantz, a Virgin Galactic executive, suggested that NASA had already chartered the plane and remain “… eager to get their flights conducted…” Pomerantz also suggests this may provide Virgin Galactic an opportunity to prove the reliability of their service to its private customers.
In addition, he expounded upon the potential use of his company’s SS2 craft in various fields of research, from atmospheric chemistry to space weather studies.
The cost of chartering an SS2 spaceplane for a scientific experiment would equate to the cost of an entire plane’s worth of passengers.
With Richard Branson planning to introduce cheaper space flights, it still remains highly unlikely that the average Joe will be given an opportunity to experience the feeling of space’s weightlessness. However, Branson’s latest reveal could also represent a cunning PR stunt to generate greater publicity for his SS2 spaceplanes and his next big announcement.
By: James Fenner