Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 3 August 2020

FUTURE

Virgin Galactic offers first look of the cabin interior of its space plane

VSS Unity was unveiled at a virtual event and can be experienced in AR on a new app

Virgin Galactic offered a peek into what customers might expect on their trip to zero gravity by providing a first glimpse of the interior cabin of its space plane, VSS Unity, in a virtual tour streamed on YouTube.

For $250,000 (Dh918,000) a ticket, up to six passengers at a time will climb aboard the VSS Unity and look back toward Earth or to the black beyond of the cosmos as they ascend 97 kilometres.

Virgin Galactic has also rolled out a mobile app so that aspiring space tourists or those who are curious can see the cabin design and spaceflight experience in augmented reality. The app is available to download for free at both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

"The fascination with spaceflight is universal and Virgin Galactic is here to satisfy it," Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said: "We hope the new app, with cutting-edge AR technology will help bring the dream of space one step closer for space enthusiasts everywhere.”

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is among three ventures from male billionaires that is looking to capture the nascent space tourism industry. Tesla founder Elon Musk's SpaceX, and Blue Origin, headed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, are its chief competitors.

Mr Branson took Virgin Galactic public on the New York Stock Exchange in October, securing $450 million through a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia, an investment vehicle run by the former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya.

The VSS Unity has seats for up to six paying customers to buckle in for a 90-minute trip to suborbital space, where they can experience weightlessness in zero gravity and have the chance to observe the curve of the Earth and the blackness of the cosmos beyond the atmosphere.

The Unity, attached to a bigger carrier plane, will take off from the company’s New Mexico spaceport and detach mid-air to launch further toward the edge of space in a trip lasting 90 minutes.

The flight has several phases: gaining altitude while attached to the carrier craft, to the high-G burn after the Unity separates from that carrier transport, to the free-floating in-space "wander" and then to the high-G return to Earth.

A pilot-controlled recline mechanism positions travellers to manage G-forces on boost and re-entry and frees up cabin space to maximise an unrestricted astronaut float zone when in zero gravity.

To capture the journey, there are 16 cabin cameras, plus those in the cockpit and mounted externally, which "will generate high definition output to provide everything from the first Instagram posts to a beautifully edited and historically significant personal movie".

The cabin also includes a first for space travel: a large, circular mirror on the aft bulkhead which, by adding a tint to the reflective surface, allows astronauts to view themselves weightless while illuminated by the natural brightness of the Earth.

Updated: July 29, 2020 01:09 PM

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