The age of space tourism is a little closer with rocket plane operator Virgin Galactic’s announcement that it will shift its base to a spaceport in the New Mexico desert.
Virgin Galactic will move staff and space vehicles over the northern summer from Mojave, California, to the new commercial operations headquarters at Spaceport America, New Mexico.
‘With today’s announcement, New Mexico will become one of the first places on this beautiful planet of ours to regularly send humans into space,’ the company posted on Twitter.
Virgin Galactic has been promising commercial sub-orbital pleasure flights since its founding in 2004. The company’s plans were set back in 2014 when one of its SpaceShip Two craft crashed during testing but operations have accelerated in recent months. In February, a SpaceShipTwo, with two pilots on board, reached 295,000 feet above sea level.
More than 700 people have bought tickets on Virgin Galactic at a cost between $US200,000 and $250,000 ($A287,000 and $A360,000). Each flight will carry six passengers, who will experience several minutes of weightlessness before returning to a runway landing.
An alternative form of space tourism is being developed by balloon operators Zero 2 Infinity and World View, which are working to provide a space-like flight experience using balloons that will rise to near the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, above 100,000 feet. Flight Safety Australia examined the safety issues and lessons of commercial spaceflight in a 2014 article Regular public astronaut.