Since the days of Copernicus it has been humankind’s dream to fly. But not just paragliding off a cliff or traveling at 20 000 feet in a commercial airplane – that’s easy. No we want to reach outer space and experience weightlessness that modern day dieting doesn’t quite allow.
This is soon to be made possible with the unveiling of eccentric billionaire Richard Branson’s WhiteKnightTwo. The ship is to be officially launched at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California this week and is expected to take to the ‘skies’ by late September.
WhiteKnightTwo is being knighted as the world’s most advanced payload carrier with the best fuel efficiency of any aircraft ever built in history. It is also the world’s first 100% carbon composite aircraft and will be the first commercial vehicle offering tourist trips to outer space.
According to Virgin Galactic (the world’s first spaceline) WhiteKnightTwo will reach an altitude of 50 000 feet before releasing SpaceShipTwo – an aircraft that will take six passengers and two pilots up to 360 000 feet. Traveling speed: just over three times the speed of sound.
WhiteKnightTwo takes to the skies
Tickets to get onboard WhiteKnightTwo aren’t cheap bordering around $200 000. However, some 254 people have already forked out enough cash to earn priority seating in the first couple of years of sub-orbital flying, making total sales in the region of $36 million.
For those of us back on Earth, WhiteKnightTwo has been designed with additional abilities in mind. With a staunch under-carrying capacity, engineers are looking to see whether the aircraft can be used as a forest fire water-bomber. Other ideas are to use the vehicle for microgravity science flights, high-altitude testing, and to toss a few microsatellites into low Earth orbit while its up there.
But no doubt Branson’s new toy is primarily another multi-billion dollar enterprise, but at least it’s a first in sub-orbital history,
“It is these spaceships that will allow affordable sub-orbital space tourism for the first time in the history of the universe”
– Richard Branson