Earlier this week it became known that billionaire Richard Branson´s space shuttle ‘SpaceShipTwo’ will take tourists into space. Branson´s Virgin Galactic has chosen two space ports, from where tourists will be send-off into space. One port is located in New Mexico, United States, the other is Sweden Spaceport, in Kiruna, northern Sweden.
If everything goes as planned, space tourist may flock to Kiruna already within a few years.
“Virgin Galactic has its home port in the U.S and will launch its first flights there in 2011. Once they have been in operation for 6 to 12 months, it is time for the European market and then they will come over here”, says Johanna Bergström-Roos at the Esrange Space Center, to newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
While New Mexico can offer a holiday in the sun combined with spaceflight, Kiruna on its hand may attract tourists with the aurora, a midnight sun or the ice hotel and snow, depending on the season.
In an earlier interview with Swedish broadcaster TV4, Richard Branson told that spaceflight from Sweden may become a reality already in 2012.
“We would love to send people up with rocket so they can experience the aurora from space. Sweden has been very welcoming and very enthusiastic about this project, so I am hopeful that we, very soon after having started our space program in New Mexico, will be able to start up in northern Sweden”, Branson said.
The spacecraft of Virgin Galactic can accommodate six passengers and two pilots. The craft is stuck in a graft vessel, which consists of an airplane. The plane flies the craft at about 15 kilometres altitude, compared with conventional aircraft flying at around 10 kilometres altitude.
At 15,000 meters the craft is released from the airplane and allowed to fall freely for a moment before the rocket engine is turned on.
“It´s called air-launch. The craft starts in the air from the free fall and pull away for about 90 seconds up an altitude of 110 kilometres. A bit like a roller-coaster, first a free-fall and then up into the air at full speed”, Johanna Bergström-Roos explains.
The space flight is suborbital and the spacecraft will thus not come into orbit, but lured back to earth.
“When the engine is shut down the craft will continue upwards until the momentum runs out and it is dragged down to earth again. The craft then goes into free fall the passengers will be weightless. When disconnected from the chair you can tumble and explore weightlessness”.
After four to five minutes its time to be seated again because the craft then re-enters the atmosphere. The whole adventure is expected to last for two and a half hour.
There where many space ports who courted Virgin Galactic, but the company chose Spaceport Sweden in Kiruna.
“We have space expertise, an amazing wilderness, aurora and an ice hotel. It´s not a bad package”, says Johanna Bergström-Roos, and stresses that the Esrange Space Center has dealt with rocket launches since 1966.