Jul 12, 2014 02:57 AM EDT
Virgin Galactic, which is the commercial space venture of British billionaire Richard Branson, has reached an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration that would pave the way for paying customers to go on a suborbital flight. This agreement is not one that would give license for the company to routinely launch missions to space, but it does define the parameters and guidelines of how missions in suborbital flight from a spaceport should take place.
The project aims to make the first passenger flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico as early as this year. According to the company, there are already 600 reservations for the ride. This brings them one step closer to their long-term goal of launching space tourism flights. Despite not having a specific date when the special flights will commence, founder of Virgin Galactic Richard Branson said that the company aims to launch before the year ends. According to the LA Times, however, many stages of approvals have yet to be cleared including environmental matters, safety issues and insurance concerns.
Current technology involves astronauts having to be crammed in a small capsule or a shuttle attached to a high-powered rocket for propulsion. Virgin Galactic, on the other hand, plans to use a WhiteKnightTwo carrier instead. It operates by flying up to 50,000 feet with the reusable SpaceShipTwo rocket under its wing. From there, the spaceship will detach and blast off with the rocket motors giving enough thrust to power the spaceship to almost 2,500 mph. The pilot and up to 6 passengers will be taken to the edge of space, over 60 miles above the surface of the Earth. From there they would be able to view the Earth's curvature and feel the sensation of weightlessness before re-entering the atmosphere and back to the runway. This unique experience has a price tag of $250,000.
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