"HOTELS IN SPACE: ANOTHER GIANT STEP FOR BRANSON"
From Hotels magazine:
HOTELS IN SPACE: ANOTHER GIANT STEP FOR BRANSONRichard Orange April 3, 2006SIR Richard Branson is taking a giant leap for mankind by drawing up plans to build the worlds first space hotels, his space flight company Virgin Galactic has told The Business. Alex Tai, its operations director, who will pilot Virgins first commercial space flight in 2008, has held talks with US hotel entrepreneur Robert Bigelow about the project, Virgin Galactics president Will Whitehorn confirmed.
Bigelow Aerospace is developing inflatable pods it believes could receive the first space travellers by the end of the decade. Branson, Virgin Galactics chairman, revealed the space hotel discussions in Dubai last week.
Branson said: We are talking to people who are developing hotels for space. We are also talking to people who are developing launch craft to get hotels into space. People know that we can turn something that might seem a bit bizarre into a commercial reality. Personally, I think theres a demand for space hotels.
Space hotels have also long been an interest of Burt Rutan, the engineering brain behind Virgins SpaceShipTwo, the company said.
Branson last week announced that the Spaceship Company, the 70:30 joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Rutans Scaled Composites, was set to begin construction of its first space craft, SpaceShipTwo, within six weeks.
Virgin Galactic is keeping the design of SpaceShipTwo secret. It spent $25m (E20.6m, £14.4m) on the design and will spend $100m on construction. The plane, about the size of a Gulfstream jet, is modelled on SpaceShipOne, a design by Rutan which won the $10m Ansari Xprize in October 2004 after completing its second voyage into space. It travelled to 50,000 feet on the back of a carrier aircraft. It then accelerated from 140 knots to supersonic speeds within 11 seconds. It has a feather design which allows the plane to float to earth safely like a shuttlecock.
Passengers on SpaceShipTwo will spend 15 minutes in space. They will be able to undo their seat buckles and float weightlessly around their cabin. Around 444 people have travelled to space so far. Virgin aims to take that many within the first year and 10 times that amount within the first three years. Whitehorn said the Spaceship Company would not start work on SpaceShipThree until after 2010. It is intended to be the worlds first commercial orbital spacecraft with potential to dock with space hotels. He said: SpaceShipTwo will be the testbed for a future spaceship which will be capable of orbital flight.
Commercial orbital flight will allow passengers to travel from the UK to Australia in half an hour.
Of the 100 places for founders on SpaceShipTwo, 75 have been filled, each paying $200,000 upfront. Virgin Galactic has already raised a total $13.1m in deposits. Virgin hopes to bring the price down to $100,000 within 10 years. Branson hopes to plough back any profits into more magnificent journeys into space. He said: I think this can be a commercially successful venture as well as an awesome adventure.