Hoots mon! We have a problem

Sir Richard Branson’s space business wants to launch flights from Scotland, the company revealed this week.

Virgin Galactic are in talks to take off from Machrihanish on the west coast and Lossiemouth on the east. Both are RAF airfields with long runways capable of launching Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo passenger craft. The one problem they forsee is bad weather.

Virgin is building its main spaceport in New Mexico. But it wants to take it to selected airports around the world for special flights. Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn told me: “To fly from the north of Scotland would be incredible. Passengers would have spectacular views of the Scottish coastline.
“The only potential worry is the Scottish weather!”

He said 100 wannabe space tourists had already signed up for the $200,000 trips aboard SpaceShipTwo. The ship will be carried high into the atmosphere suspended from the belly of a White Knight aircraft. There it will be dropped free and a powerful rocket will carry it 75 miles up to the edge of space.

Each spacecraft will carry eight people including five or six paying tourists who will peer out from big round windows. Mr Whitehorn said: “People all want to see the curvature of the earth and the blackness of space. But above all they want to experience weightlessness.” After their trip into space the ship would re-enter the atmosphere like a shuttlecock and glide to a landing.

Mr Whitehorn said flights would not be possible from the southern UK because of heavy air traffic. But the company also wants to fly from Koruna in Sweden to take passengers inside the spectacular Northern Lights.

He told the UK’s first ever space tourism conference in London that Virgin would not get into a space race with other private companies. He said: “It is a safety race. We want to develop the safest technology ever used in space exploration.”

Test flights are due to begin next year. Mr Whitehorn said he expected the price of a ticket to drop to below $100,000 eventually.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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