When it comes to outer-space, New Mexico has been the site of some great milestones: the White Sands Proving Grounds is considered the birthplace of modern rocketry and who can forget the never-ending alien conspiracy that surrounds the small town of Roswell. Now you can add another headline to the list: Thanks to the deep pockets of none-other than Virgin Records Richard Branson, New Mexico will soon be the location of the nation’s very first built-from-scratch commercial SPACEPORT.
According to www.space.com, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Branson inked a deal to the tune of $225 million dollars for the tentatively named South-West Regional Spaceport — built from specifications of Branson’s pace-tourism venture Virgin Galactic.
The Bahrain Tribune (www.bahraintribune.com) recently published a story on December 28th stating that Branson was looking around the Gulf for a site from which to launch his commercial space flight and found it in Bahrain. However, Virgin quickly countered by saying that it is still working with Mohave Aerospace Ventures to start the world’s first commercial spaceline and is still planning to start flights from New Mexico. According to the Virgin Galactic Web site, the carrier will operate one 150 minute space journey per week, carrying six space tourists at a time.
Lest you think the SpacePort is some docking point for a Close Encounters-like scenario then think again. The SpacePort is — above all else — a money-making venture: Branson’s Virgin Galactic hopes to debut its first flight in 2009 with $200,000-per-ticket suborbital flight hops aboard spaceships now in development by Scaled Composits (www.scaled.com) — the same company that launched the first privately funded spacecraft — called SpaceShipOne back in 2004.
Space.com points out that the SpacePort’s design calls for the facility to be built mostly underground in an effort to reduce its environmental impact. The SpacePort will also use solar power, water-retention systems and underground hangers. Spaceships would emerge from a single long runaway as it prepares for launch.
According to www.virgingalactic.com, passengers will undergo 3-days of pre-flight preparation, bonding and training at the SpacePort prior to launching. Virgin’s spacecraft will be attached to the belly of a custom-built aircraft which will carry the ship, six passengers and two pilots to a launch altitude of 55,000 feet. After dropping the Mother Ship and firing its single rocket engine, the spaceship will climb out of our atmosphere at Mach 3 and give passengers up to six minutes of weightlessness and a $200,000 dollar view from nearly 70 miles up that will stretch from Baja California to the Gulf of Mexico.
Sound like the stuff of science fiction? Not likely. These fantasies are rooted in fact: passengers will lie flat for the launch and monitor G-forces and other vital signs on a display panel as the watch the sky transition from blue to black courtesy of large view ports.
When the spaceship’s engines shut down, the passengers will be instantly weightless – and given the option to release themselves from their restraints in order to float around the cabin.
NASA may be heading to MARS in the next 10 years or so (or maybe longer) but apparently Virgin’s Richard Branson cant wait that long. Virgin has already collected the full ticket price from its first 100 passengers (It also announced that 38,000 people from 126 countries have already paid a deposit for a seat on one of the commercial flights). According to www.virgingalactic.com, “…During the course of 2007, Virgin Galactic will be appointing accredited Space Agents around the world that re fully trained in order to assist customers in making a space flight reservation….”
What’s more, www.air-attack.com states that passengers who clock up air miles on Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club reward scheme are being given the chance to convert them into seats on the soon-to-be pioneering space tourism flights.
Boldly going where no man has gone before is no longer just a job for the members of Star Trek. Thanks to Richard Branson, these space-flights-of-fancy are soon to be accessible to almost everyone (that is, who can afford it).