I'll come right out and admit it, I love Richard Branson. Not in any 'I want to cuddle up to him and whisper sweet nothings way' I assure you, but in an admire his ambition sort of way. The first time I flew on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Delhi, I very nearly asked for an employment application because I thought to myself, 'now here is a company that's doing thing's right'. This doesn't even take into consideration his commitment to green initiatives—though my inner snark does come out when I think of his exclusive green resort for the uber-rich.
Not content to remain planted on terra firma, Branson, and his partner in this venture Burt Rutan, have unveiled another step in their plans for the future of space tourism and Branson's Virgin Galactic brand: the WhiteKnightTwo.
The World's Largest Carbon Composite Aircraft
Touted as the world's largest all carbon composite aircraft—the 140 foot long wing spar is the largest carbon composite aviation component every manufactured—the plane is powered by four Pratt & Whitney engines which "are amongst the most powerful, economic and efficient available."
'A Wake Up Call to the Aerospace Industry'
Burt Rutan said of the WhiteKnightTwo,
WhiteKnightTwo represents the apogee of the application of carbon composites to aerospace and all of us at Scaled are tremendously excited at the capabilities of the Mothership for SpaceShipTwo. I believe the vehicle will be developed and sold for a variety of launch applications beyond the initial requirements of our launch customer, Virgin Galactic. We have set up a new business jointly with Virgin, The Spaceship Company (TSC), to develop these vehicles and we very much hope that its efficiency will herald a wake up call to the aerospace industry and the necessity of using new materials and technologies in the future.
WhiteKnightTwo to be Mothership for the Actual Space Craft
For the trip into space, WhiteKnightTwo will cradle the actual non-orbital space craft, appropriately named, SpaceShipTwo under it's wing to an altitude of 50,000 feet before releasing it. Once separated, a hybrid rocket will fire and SpaceShipTwo will climb to an altitude of 62 miles above the surface of the Earth.
According to the BBC, more than 250 people have already paid $200,000 per person to be among the first space tourists making a trip with Virgin Galactic. Branson expects to make his first space voyage within 18 months.
So what's the 'green' angle on this?
The first thing I thought of when I saw this: I wonder if that ticket price includes a hefty carbon offset? Then: Just how many London to New York trips equals one trip into space? Beyond that, I'll leave it to readers to debate the merits and demerits of space tourism.
via :: Virgin Galactic and :: BBC News
images: Virgin Galactic
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