Virgin to double the number who have been to space by 2016
Within a year or two, the number of humans who have been to space may double, says William Pomerantz of Virgin Galactic, the company who hopes to make that happen.
Sometime in 2014, entrepreneur Richard Branson and his two children aim to be on the first commercial flight of SpaceShip Two, Virgin Galatic's rocket for propelling eight people 100 kilometers above the Earth.
To date, 542 people have been in space. Virgin has sold 660 tickets at $250,000 each, for its three-day experience which culminates in a two-hour flight, about four minutes of it floating in microgravity.
The new version, finished 18 months ago, is now doing test flights. It looks like two planes, each with its own cabin, holding the rocket like a third cabin between them. It takes off from a Virgin site in New Mexico and climbs to 50,000 feet.
The plane then releases the space vehicle which plummets for about three seconds before it engages its rocket for a 6G acceleration to about 3.5 times the speed of sound out and up into space. Once it reaches peak altitude, pilots shut off the rocket. It descends as a capsule for several seconds. Then wings deploy, the rocket reignites and propels the vehicle to a landing back at the New Mexico facility.
"We've take a lot of pains to see both wings are actuated by the same mechanism, it's fairly redundant and surprisingly low tech," he said. "Scaled Composites is willing to go low tech" to be practical, "they are not in to technology for technology's sake," he added.
"Clever engineering solutions make sure passengers are in the right orientation [when in capsule or airplane mode]" so they generally are facing the G forces that "won't last long and should feel fun, like spots car ride and not a risk to you," he said.
Long term "Sir Richard's ultimate interest is not going straight up and down but going from say, San Jose to London in 45 minutes -- that’s a much harder problem to solve, but we are learning about it in bite-size fashion," he said.