Yesterday there was the inauguration of Spaceport America, a space airport strongly wanted by billionaire Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Galactic, a private company created with the aim of offering sub-orbital space flights and missions to launch satellites into orbit.
Spaceport America was built in New Mexico starting from 2006 at a cost of over $200 million partially funded by the state. Over the past few years several launch test were made by UP Aerospace, another private aerospace company that has conducted several rocket launches.
Yesterday, Spaceport America was opened for business with an official ceremony and obviosly Richard Branson himself was its protagonist. From here there will be the take off of the sub-orbital tourist trips of SpaceShipTwo (photo ©Virgin Galactic / Mark Greenberg), which will be transported up to an altitude of about fifteen chilometers (50,000 feet) by the specially designed mothership White Knight Two and from there it will accelerate to supersonic speeds until it will reach the altitude programmed for the trip.
The sub-orbital trips should begin next year. The ticket for one of them costs about $202,000. Despite not being exactly cheap over four hundred already booked a seat.
Tourism is an essential business for Virgin Galactic however the company has already announced a deal with NASA to carry out various scientific experiments in the upper atmosphere. NASA started the Space Launch System project which should mark the beginning of a new space program but it’s a long term project and after the end of the Space Shuttle program NASA had to find another way to carrie out its scientific programs.
NASA booked a sub-orbital flight with the option to make two more. If the option should be exercised the total contract value would be about $4,5 million.
Certainly the deal with NASA gives credibility to Virgin Galactic, which could really make space travel at least at sub-orbital level an every day thing. Obviously for the near future the cost will be such that only the rich will afford it but over the years it will definitely become cheaper.
A return to the Moon is still far away and other destinations are even farther but after the end of the Space Shuttle program and the prospect of waiting years for the development of the Space Launch System at last some good news for space travel has arrived!