Virgin Atlantic, one of United Kingdom’s foremost private airline has taken a major step to venture into the space technology following the designation of its newly re-designed B747 aircraft called the “Cosmic Girl” to launch rockets into space.
This new space expedition is however being handled by its sister company, Virgin Galactic, making it the first major private space tourism company.
After more than three years of construction, the Chairman, Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson unveiled the new spaceship at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California recently, which is a replacement for the one that crashed in 2014, killing a test pilot.
Branson said the new aircraft means space could 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 and also a great testament to what can be achieved when true teamwork, great skill and deep pride are combined with a common purpose,” Branson said.
The company said that because of the fatal crash, the new spaceship will not “blast off and head straight to space” anytime soon. Instead, it faces an extensive testing period.
Once the craft has fully checked out, Virgin Galactic planned to use it to ferry passengers up 50 miles above Earth’s surface; a height the company said will qualify them as “bona fide space tourists.”
The Chief Executive Officer, Virgin Atlantic, George Whitesides said: “One of the things that I think is most powerful is that we’ll be able to get a new perspective on our planet as hundreds and eventually millions of people are able to go into space”.
More than 700 people have signed up to fly on Virgin Galactic, even though the company requires $250,000 up front for a seat.
So when will passenger flights begin? The company’s tweets and press release are noticeably short on dates. But here are some of the key things that Virgin Galactic said will happen next:
The Chief Pilot, Virgin Galactic, Dave Mackay noted: “The actual accident itself was caused by a control being moved when it shouldn’t have. “We’ve implemented a new system, which prevents that from ever happening again. So it’s physically impossible to move that control at the point that it was moved during the accident.”
Mackay said this strategy was pursed by the company for simplicity: “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.”
When asked what it takes to be a Virgin Galactic pilot, Mackay said, “We look for the most experienced test pilots that we can get. Test flying is important, because we’re in the test and development phase of the vehicle. And we’re doing something which is unique. It’s very, very unusual.”
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