Virgin Galactic is one of the best-known space tourism companies in the world and the business is aiming to offer commercial space travel in the foreseeable future. In this article, you will find out more information about the future of Virgin space flight and the anticipated cost of boarding a Virgin Galactic spaceship.
Aspiring astronauts and space enthusiasts around the world, now have the opportunity to explore the Virgin Galactic cabin design and spaceflight experience through an augmented reality enabled mobile app, which launches after the live event, and is available to download for free at both the App Store and Play Store.
One of the defining hallmarks of the Virgin brand over 50 years, has been the use of inspired and bold design to transform the customer experience. It’s an ethos that has been successfully applied across industrial sectors and design disciplines: from aircraft cabins and hotel bedrooms to fitness classes and personal banking. Virgin Galactic, in collaboration with London design agency, Seymourpowell, has striven to remain faithful to that tradition by developing an elegant but progressive, experience-focused concept for the cabin of its spaceship. While it has been created to integrate seamlessly with every other aspect of the Virgin Galactic astronaut journey – the cabin is also the design centerpiece; providing safety without distraction, quietly absorbing periods of sensory intensity, and offering each astronaut a level of intimacy required for personal discovery and transformation. The textures, colors, and structures within the cabin create an elegance, underlined by purpose which will inspire a sense of confidence in astronauts from the moment they board the spaceship on the day of the flight. Individually sized seats, created using the highest-grade aluminum and carbon-fiber manufacturing techniques, reinforce this sense. The importance of astronaut comfort to optimize performance is accentuated by the use of engineered foam and technical fabrics. Virgin Galactic’s partner Under Armour developed the astronaut spacesuits and also the fabric technology featured in the cabin seats. Harnessing insights from more than two decades of maximizing human performance, Under Armour created a 3D knit featuring constructions that map breathability and function into the fabric encasing each cabin seat to provide comfort and mobility during spaceflight.
The color palette of the cabin has been carefully curated so that it complements the architecture of the seat, the cabin itself, and spacesuits. The golden metallics resemble luminous desert sands, blues conjure celestial spaces, and teals inspired by the ocean ground travelers back to Earth.
Each seat has been engineered to match the dynamism of the flight. A pilot-controlled recline mechanism optimally positions astronauts to manage G- forces on boost and re-entry and frees up cabin space to maximize an unrestricted astronaut float zone when in zero gravity.
Virgin pioneered mood lighting on its commercial aircraft, and that idea has been translated by Virgin Galactic, into the new era of commercial spaceflight. Multi-color LEDs are concealed within the “Halo” window surrounds and are used to subtly reflect back and therefore elevate, the human responses to each of the contrasting stages of flight. At the pinnacle of the experience, as the Earth comes into view against the black sky of space, all lighting is extinguished, bringing an instant focus to the profoundly beautiful vista.
Following in the footsteps of another Virgin first, seatback screens provide digital flight data to connect each astronaut to the flight deck. Personal, integrated communication systems complement the screens with a direct connection for each astronaut to the two space pilots.
SpaceShipTwo’s cabin was deliberately sized to allow for an out-of-seat weightlessness experience for the astronauts on board. The interior design focuses on this critical part of the experience. Soft cabin surfaces and elements become intuitive hand and footholds, allowing astronauts to explore the cabin freely and fully. The “Halo” surrounds twelve large windows that have soft extended edges, which allow astronauts to perfectly position themselves for 360 degrees of awe-inspiring views, from the infinity of outer space to the beauty of our home planet.
Virgin Galactic’s current community of 600 Future Astronauts has always been clear that having photos and videos of their spaceflight experience to share, is of paramount importance. The output from 16 cabin cameras, plus those in the cockpit and mounted externally, will generate high definition output to provide everything from the first Instagram posts, to a beautifully edited and historically significant personal movie.
To further elevate the experience of floating in zero-gravity, the cabin includes a first for space travel, a large, circular mirror on the aft bulkhead which, by adding a tint to the reflective surface, allows astronauts to view themselves weightless while illuminated by the natural brightness of the Earth.
A $3bn-a-year market in the making?
Winning FAA approval will open the door to what is expected to be a multibillion-dollar space tourism market.
“While space tourism is still nascent, we think it will become mainstream as the technology becomes proven and cost falls,” wrote UBS analyst Jarrod Castle in a March 2019 market study on space tourism and travel opportunities.
“We estimate, given the spectrum for space tourism, by 2029 space tourism could be a market worth (circa) $3 billion per annum,” Castle said, adding that UBS expects the sector to then grow by double digits.
Several firms are angling for a spot in the new market, according to UBS, with services that range from zero-gravity experiences for around $5,700 to stays in space costing from $550,000 to $5.5m per night up to a trip to the moon for $150m. UBS estimated that the cost to take a Virgin Galactic suborbital flight would be around $250,000. According to Virgin Galactic, over 700 people had put down deposits for flights as of July 30.
Not just pleasure, business too
Pleasure travelers are not the only passengers Virgin Galactic plans to transport to sub orbit. The company is offering researchers the opportunity to both send payloads aloft and to ride along to monitor their experiments. The seats in the cabin can be removed to make more room for research-focused cargo.
This month’s flight will carry three experiments as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. The upcoming flight will be the first powered launch from Spaceport America, where Virgin Galactic is now headquartered. Completed in 2012, the facility sits in the Jornada del Muerto desert close to White Sands Missile Range. The facility is attracting other customers as well. In October the Canada-based C6 Launch Systems signed a deal to both test and operate its small rocket from the spaceport. Other tenants and customers include HAPSMobile, AeroVironment, UP Aerospace, and SpinLaunch. Boeing and EXOS Aerospace also use the spaceport.
Only a few years ago, spaceports seemed more fanciful than a solid financial investment. Now 11 states in the US have licensed commercial spaceports and 13 more localities are proposing such facilities, Steve Wolfe, deputy executive director of the Global Spaceport Alliance.
Right now all the spaceports are looking at dedicated runway facilities for horizontal take-off and landing. HOTOL is the plane-like approach used by Virgin Galactic. Classic rockets have a vertical take-off. Virgin Galactic has created a lot of excitement around this. Now there are these air-launched vehicles. So having a spaceport means having a runway, not a launch complex an orbital launch complex. Everybody’s interested in it.
The United Arab Emirates may be among those with new space-focused ambitions. The UAE and Virginia Galactic signed a memorandum of understanding in March 2019, potentially paving the way for the creation of a UAE spaceport to support tourism launches as well as research.
A lot of this technology is getting to a price point where a country of modest size could afford its space program. There’s a lot of prestige involved and also the excitement around the economic development potential.
Loss of Millions of $
Space tourism venture Virgin Galactic lost $60 million in the first quarter of 2020, down from the $73 million net loss it suffered at the end of last year, according to the company’s earnings statement today. The company says it earned revenue of just $238,000 this first quarter by “providing engineering services.” Along with these earnings results, Virgin Galactic is announcing that 400 people put down refundable deposits to fly on the company’s tourist spaceplane in the future. The full cost to fly on the vehicle is $250,000, but through a new initiative, Virgin Galactic allowed aspiring astronauts to put down just $1,000 to reserve a seat on a future flight. The company says those deposits represent “over $100 million of potential future revenue upon full ticket payment.”
Virgin Galactic is also announcing today that it is getting some help from NASA to develop future high Mach vehicles or supersonic jets that can potentially be used for high-speed air travel. Today, the company announced a new Space Act Agreement with NASA, which will leverage the space agency’s research in the field of supersonic air travel.
For the last two decades, Virgin Galactic’s primary goal has been to send paying customers to the edge of space and back to get a quick taste of weightlessness. The company’s primary vehicle is the VSS Unity, a spaceplane that deploys from underneath the wing of a giant carrier aircraft in midair. Pilots on board the spaceplane ignite the vehicle’s onboard engine to climb to an altitude 50 miles above the Earth, what many consider to be the boundary to space. At that height, passengers would experience a few minutes of floating before the plane glides back down to Earth and lands on a runway.
While the exact date has yet to be determined, the upcoming test will mark the third space flight for Virgin Galactic and the first from New Mexico. Moses called it a big milestone for an idea that was first pitched decades ago.