Accomplishing dreams of becoming an astronaut has just become a step more attainable thanks to Virgin Galactic.
On Thursday Sept. 9, Virgin Galactic announced the return of their space tourism program with a test flight of their WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo.
According to Virgin Galactic’s update from Mojave, where the test flight took place, the test was a complete success.
It consisted of launching WhiteKnightTwo with SpaceShipTwo attached to its underside. In a full, active flight, SpaceShipTwo would then detach and launch from WhiteKnightTwo.
It would then proceed to exit Earth’s atmosphere. This differs from all state sanctioned space exploration programs, such as NASA, since the ship is launching from a vehicle in motion as opposed to a launch pad.
This new test comes as a welcome sign for fans of the company and space tourism in general, as Virgin Galactic has not completed any new tests since 2014.
The LA Times reports that this has largely been due to the catastrophic crash that occurred in October of 2014 and resulted in the death of one of the test pilots.
This error was largely identified to be the fault of a pilot’s error, however the company proceeded to pull their flight testing program for two years to ensure full safety checks could be completed on all new test vehicles.
Virgin Galactic’s progress in the industry of space tourism indicates a possible future for an entire industry centered around the attraction.
Techcrunch reports that “in 2015, VC investment in the sector increased by 253 percent year-over-year and a whopping 2,052 percent since 2012.”
Virgin Galactic is not the only company looking to take part in the new market in recent years. Companies such as SpaceX and Space Adventures have launched their own programs with varying degrees of success. They have become major competitors for Virgin Galactic over the courses of the past few years.
Most recently, The Inquisitor reports that Space Adventures has partnered with Russia based Space Corporation Energia in order to send a eight person tourist group to orbit the moon.
Tickets for this particular exhibition start at $150 million. Comparatively, Virgin Galactic is planning on charging $250,000 per passenger, transporting more passengers at a time and sending launching passengers at 50,000 feet, then propelling them to 50 miles above Earth’s surface.
This would make all Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures passengers technical astronauts by NASA’s definition.
The privatisation of space travel and the allowance for competition in the free market outside of nationalist competition has allowed the industry to make strides in the realm of passenger transit.
This has added a sense of refueled vigor to the space race and a new global sense of wonder regarding the industry.
However, while private companies such as Virgin Galactic plan to specialize in space tourism, it remains to be seen whether or not the research based side that has come to be associated with space travel will be neglected in favor of making a profit.
Editor’s Note: Information from Techcrunch, LA Times and the Virgin Galactic website was used in this report.