The UK Space Agency is now drawing up the necessary regulations to allow suborbital human spaceflight of the type proposed by Virgin Galactic. Virgin’s sub-orbital tourist fights would take the paying passengers beyond the edge of space, around 110,000 metres, during which they would experience a brief period of weightlessness.
The going rate per ticket is a nominal US$250,000 – expensive for a short fight but far cheaper than other earlier ventures in which tourists paid more than US$100 million to travel to the International Space Station on Russian rocket launches.
British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit company has signed an agreement to use the planned new Spaceport Cornwall as the site for its LauncherOne system and Cosmic Girl aircraft.
The UK is also planning another spaceport for the Scottish Highlands, from which Virgin Atlantic will operate the tourist flights.
Unlike other private space ventures, Virgin proposes to conduct horizontal launches, with mothercraft WhiteKnightTwo carrying its tourist spacecraft, called SpaceShipTwo, to an altitude of 50,000 feet.
There SpaceShipTwo fires its rocket motors to carry its six paying customers beyond the Karman line, the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and actual space.
“For Britain to be the first spaceport in Europe to be able to offer that service because we have the legislation in place, because we’ve sorted out our infrastructure, that will be huge,” UK astronaut Major Tim Peake told British media.
“Space tourism can come under some criticism as a sport for the rich. But that’s how a lot of things start. That’s how aviation started.
“If you extend Virgin Galactic’s principle of sub-orbital flight and improve the vehicles and make them with increasing endurance, you could do London-to-Sydney in an hour-and-a- half on a sub-orbital trajectory.”
For the Cornwall spaceport, the UK Space Agency is contributing $14.25 million with the Cornwall Council stumping up another $21.78 million.
“We are very proud to play a role in bringing space launch back to Britain with a revolutionary new level of flexibility and responsiveness,” said Virgin Orbit chief executive Dan Hart.
Head of spaceflight policy at the UK Space Agency Andrew Kuh said Britain hoped to be the first to pull off the incredible feat of a commercial tourism spaceport.
“The Space Industry Act 2018 has already put in place the legal framework,” he said.
“We’re hoping to have the right regulations in place so that we could launch from Britain.”
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