Virgin Galactic will take another big step towards space tourism next month. The company will embark on the first of its final two crewed test flights using the carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo to launch SpaceShipTwo. The flight could take place as early as October 22nd out of Virgin Galactic’s ‘Spaceport’ in New Mexico.
Two types of test flights
While Virgin Galactic has yet to publicly release the dates of its test flights, CNBC has acquired the information through documents filed with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on September 1st. A Virgin Galactic spokesperson has confirmed the accuracy of the FCC filing but made it clear that the October 22nd date marks the beginning of a flight window.
Therefore, it’s possible that the launch may happen sometime after this date. These test flights in late October will include both the carrier aircraft known as WhiteKnightTwo and the actual plane carrying space tourists – SpaceShipTwo.
Before late October, the carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, will undertake a series of four-hour test flights between October 1st and October 7th.
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Reserve your seat now!
According to Engadget, company founder Sir Richard Branson could be heading into space on a Virgin Galactic space ship sometime within the first quarter of 2021.
Skift notes that Virgin Galactic had received just under 8,000 online reservations of interest as of March 2020. Beginning on February 26th, serious travelers have had the ability to register online with a $1,000 refundable deposit to ensure an early spot in line. Of course, it’s just that – a deposit. The full cost of the ticket will be much, much more.
In speaking with CNBC in December 2019, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, said the company had already taken 600 firm reservations from customers in 60 countries. Those 600 ticket holders committed to paying $250,000 for their trip into space.
Virgin Galactic aircraft names demystified
There have been several names floating around used to refer to these aircraft. To clarify, WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo are the names of the aircraft types – as a Virgin Atlantic aircraft may be an Airbus A350 or Boeing 787. However, when the company takes on additional carrier and space aircraft, names are used to distinguish within the types – similar to how Virgin Atlantic names its ships.
For example, in the case of Virgin Atlantic, the airline’s first A350 was given the name Red Velvet while subsequent A350s have been given the names Queen Of Hearts, Mamma Mia, and Rain Bow. For Virgin Galactic, the first WhiteKnightTwo aircraft has been given the name VMS Eve while the first SpaceShipTwo is called VSS Unity. As for VMS and VSS, they stand for Virgin Mother Ship and Virgin Space Ship, respectively.
According to Virgin Galactic’s Q2 2020 Earnings Report, the company has already completed numerous structural and mechanical installations on a second SpaceShipTwo vehicle as well as completed over 75% of parts fabrication for the third SpaceShipTwo vehicle.
How popular do you think space tourism will become? Is it going to be a big industry in the next three decades or so? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!