Sub orbital space travel could revolutionize the travel industry within the next few years. Our planet could begin to feel a whole lot smaller, as Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight branch of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is set to offer sub-orbital flights that can whisk travelers from Australia to the UK in just 90 minutes. www.travelrows.com
Virgin’s commercial spacecraft, which is still in development, will take off horizontally rather than vertically, but will take passengers up to an altitude of 100-160km (62-99 miles). Passengers on such sub-orbital flights would experience several minutes of weightlessness, a view of a twinkle-free starfield and a vista of the earth curving away below.
Virgin Galactic aspires to be the first to offer regular suborbital flights to paying customers, aboard a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo class spaceplanes. Unfortunately, the company suffered a considerable set back when the VSS Enterprise broke up over the Mojave Desert during a test flight in 2014. A second spaceplane, VSS Unity, is now in testing.
Space ports will be required to allow for the take off and landing of these new spaceplanes, and several projects for space ports are currently seeking regulatory approval in the UK. One such hub is intended to be built in Cornwall, in the South of England, while other projects are in the pipeline in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
If the UK can position itself as a key hub for the new sub orbital space flight industry, then this will be huge in commercial and political terms. Astronaut Tim Peake has said as much – giving his backing to such schemes. Those who get the infrastructure and regulation in place will be able to take the lead as we usher in this new era of human transportation and space flight.
Not everyone, however, is quite as happy with space port plans. There is considerable objection from local people at several proposed space port sites. There are objections involving the despoiling of the local environment for the required infrastructure, regarding potential for noise and traffic at and around the proposed sites and, additionally, many oppose space ports on wider environmental grounds – as such sights could contribute significantly to global warming.
Yet if the Cornwall port, or one of the other space ports goes ahead, sub orbital flights could be whisking people around the globe (for a price!) within five years. Could we soon be heading half way around the world in an hour and a half? For many of us, the cost of such travel is likely to be prohibitive for some time to come. But for the wealthy – sub-orbital space flight could be a game changer.