What’s out there beyond the blue sky has always captured the attention and imagination of mankind. And with the advancement in technology, we are slowly entering into the era of private space tourism which will soon allow common people to have a glimpse of space like never before.
Virgin Galactic, owned by the British billionaire Richard Branson, is one such company looking to commercialise space flights. Recently, the company unveiled a new spacecraft at an event in Mojave, California.
The spacecraft has been named Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity by the legendary theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking who sent his four-minute recorded message to all the people present at the event including Branson and his family, actor Harrison Ford, and singer Sarah Brightman.
We are entering a new space age, and I hope this will help to create a new unity. Space exploration has already been a great unifier — we seem able to cooperate between nations in space in a way we can only envy on Earth,
said Hawking adding that he would be very proud to fly on the spaceship.
Richard Branson voiced similar thoughts and said that the new vehicle meant that space can be made accessible in a way that has only been dreamed about before.
Our beautiful new spaceship, VSS Unity, is the embodiment of that goal, also great testament to what can be achieved when true teamwork, great skill and deep pride are combined with a common purpose,
VSS Unity is the latest version of SpaceshipTwo whose first spacecraft was tragically crashed in the year 2014 during a test flight killing one test pilot and seriously injuring another. There have been some structural changes in the Unity to avoid a similar incident, although the basic design remains same.
The spacecraft is designed to take six passengers and two pilots into the suborbital space about 100 kilometers (62 miles) above sea level. The passengers will get to see the curvature of Earth and the blackness of space. They will also be able to experience a few minutes of weightlessness.
Nearly 700 people have already signed up to fly on the spacecraft which requires a hefty ticket priced at $250,000. However, there has been no mention of the timeline by the company and that phase may still be at least one to two years away as there are many safety checks and testings to be done before that.
When we are confident we can safely carry our customers to space, we will start doing so,
said the company.
Virgin Atlantic is not the only company working in the area of commercial space travel. These include Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origins, which recently successfully carried out the test of reusable rockets; ambitious Space X venture of Elon Musk; and XCOR Aerospace, which is still in the development stages of its Lynx vehicle.
One thing which distinguished Virgin Galactic from others is the use of pilots for maneuvering its space crafts as opposed to the mostly automated and unmanned ships. The reason for this starategy given by the company is the simplicity of the system.
The responsibility is high. But the reason that we’ve done it in the first place is to keep everything as simple as possible. The rationale is if you have a simple system, it’s less likely to fail, and is therefore inherently safer,
says Dave Mackay, the chief pilot for Galactic who also admitted that the first crash occurred in 2014 was due to a human error as a control was moved when it shouldn’t have.
However, he assured that they have now implemented a new system which makes physically impossible to move that control at the point that it was moved during the accident.