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Virgin Galactic: Inside the Spaceport passenger lounge

Sir Richard Branson has finally unveiled the Spaceport that he will use to fire space tourists into orbit next year.

His wacky space venture Virgin Galactic plans to charge $357,000 a ticket to launch passengers from the New Mexico port.

In a statement, Virgin Galactic said the world’s first specifically designed commercial spaceport is “operationally functional”, The Sun reported.

The company, owned by billionaire businessman Branson, announced the transfer of all its spaceflight operations to the port, dubbed Spaceport America.

Virgin Galactic had been carrying out test flights from Mohave, California, including the first successful launch of its tourism rocket plane into space in December last year.

More than 600 people have already paid $114.6 million in deposits to the company to secure their tickets on the first spaceflights.

The firm also revealed the interior of its “Gateway to Space” building at the spaceport.

The glitzy structure includes two floors primarily focused on spaceflight operations, and a further floor of communal spaces specifically designed for future customers.

As a result of the completion of the interior work, the company said the spaceport facility can now “support Virgin Galactic’s flight requirements”.

The company has said the communal area is specifically designed for astronauts to share their experience with pilots, rocket engineers and operatives from Mission Control.

Sir Richard previously claimed he would fly in one his firm’s space planes this year, with the first commercial flights going up a few months later.

A spokesperson told The Sun: “We are working towards commercial operation in 2020.”

That’s a pretty ambitious target, and is worth taking with a pinch of salt, as Sir Richard has repeatedly overshot his first flight predictions.

The billionaire founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, and initially predicted the maiden space flight would launch by 2009. The date has been repeatedly pushed back due to technical problems.

A successful maiden flight manned by two pilots finally took place in mid-December 2018.

If all goes to plan, space fans will be launched more than 80km above Earth — a point at which NASA define travellers as astronauts.

Passengers will ride aboard SpaceShipTwo, a spaceplane designed to carry six passengers and two pilots.

It is carried aloft by a large aeroplane before breaking away and zooming to an altitude of about 100km.

With a hefty price tag of $312,000 a ticket, the 90-minute flight is being aimed at wealthy celebrities and thrillseekers, as well as researchers.

Sir Richard said “ultimately” he would like to see the price fall as low as $55,000 over the next decade.

Last month, Virgin Galactic announced its merger with New York-listed Social Capital Hedosophia to set itself up to become the first and only publicly traded commercial human spaceflight company.

Commenting on the unveiling of the new spaceport, the company said: “Virgin Galactic has striven to remain faithful to that tradition by choosing an elegant, experience-focused concept for the space launch system itself.

“Similarly, the company’s choice to operate from Spaceport America in New Mexico was due in no small part to the state’s decision to commission landmark architecture for the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

“The Foster + Partners Gateway to Space facility pays homage to the past in its respect for the ancient surrounding landscape while powerfully embracing the future through energy efficiency and sustainability.

“It was also specifically designed to enable Virgin Galactic to create an unparalleled experience as its customers prepare for journeys of a lifetime before graduating as astronauts.”

NASA revealed plans for a permanent moon base last year, with boss Jim Bridenstine declaring “we want lots of humans in space”.

It recently picked Blue Origin rival SpaceX to front a world-first mission to deflect a hazardous space rock by crashing a spaceship into it in 2022.

HOW VIRGIN GALACTIC WILL FLY TOURISTS TO SPACE

Unlike most space flight companies, Virgin Galactic will not use a rocket to launch tourists to space.

Instead, its VSS Unity Space plane will head toward space strapped to an enormous carrier plane called White Knight Two.

At around 80km above the Earth’s surface — the border of outer space as defined by NASA — VSS Unity will detach from its mothership.

Within seconds, the space plane will engage its rocket motor and Unity will fly at a near-vertical angle into suborbital space, hitting three and a half times the speed of sound.

After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, the pilots will safely shut it down, giving riders around two minutes of weightlessness.

The pilots will then swivel Unity around and return it to Earth, landing it like a commercial airliner.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission


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