With the successful test flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) at the end of April, 2013, we are one step closer to commercial space tourism. This is not orbital tourism, of course, but the ability to fly above 100 km on a short flight to the beginning of space. These tourists will experience weightlessness and view both stars above and the limb of hte Earth on the horizon but it will not quite be the experience many have dreamed of for long. on
These suborbital space voyages will change the dynamic of spacefaring in the world, no doubt, but can it open the door for ever increasing space activities, activities that will ultimately open orbital space to commercial ventures. Sir Richard Branson, the investor who leads Virgin Galactic and its SpaceShipTwo effort believes he sees a way forward. He told the media after SpaceShipTwo’s flight, that it “opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end.”
During flights of SpaceShipTwo it is ferried to about 47,000 feet by a mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, which releases the vehicle and its pilots fire a hybrid rocket engine. It then travels to the edge of space before returning for a landing like an aircraft. There are several test flights to be completed before passengers will be allowed aboard, but perhaps 2014 will see the first suborbital space tourism become a reality.