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Virgin Galactic vs. Russian Space Agency
January 9, 2008 15:55

Space travel is no longer taken as something extraordinary, although it still remains an entertainment for the rich. Flights to stars have turned into another branch of business in which the Russian Space Agency (RSA) has kept the leading position up to now. The European space agency Virgin Galactic has recently sold the first series of tickets for a space excursion in an attempt to strengthen the agencys position in the space tourism world. The first flights are scheduled for 2009. All people who have bought the tickets will fly the northern lights zone.

Virgin Galactic now does not disclose the number of passengers going to see the northern lights from the inside, but the price of this entertainment is already known: each ticket costs $US 200.000. The project looks perspective against the background of RSA that has monopolized the market of space trips for civilians. The point is that a spaceship with passengers will be launched to the excursion from a base located beyond the Arctic Circle (200 kilometres distant). The base owner is the space agency Esrange with which Virgin Galactic plans to establish long-term cooperation.

The space base of Esrange is situated in northern Sweden near Kiruna and is mainly used for scientific purposes, such as launching satellites, probes, and other flight devices. Richard Branson, head of Virginia Galactic holding, was sure that a perspective of watching the northern lights from a short distance would attract many rich judges of beauty. The programme of the unusual excursion includes pre-flight preparation, a 2-hour trip and staying in the gravity-free-state for 20 minutes.

If the first flight goes well in 2009, the base of Esrange agency will become Virgin Galactic`s main European spaceport, according to the plans of Richard Branson. If the project succeeds, Branson plans to sell up to 15.000 tickets for such excursions per year.

Meanwhile, RSA offers its tourists the first in the world flight around the Moon that costs $US 100 million. Although the project of RSA is more large-scale than a 2-hour flight to the northern lights, it looks simpler. After having been launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome the spaceship Soyuz flies to the near-earth orbit where it docks with the International Space Station (ISS).

The spaceship crew consists of 2-3 people: a commander and tourists. After docking has been over, an upper-stage rocket is launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome and is sent to ISS. The spaceship Soyuz gets disconnected from ISS and docks with the upper-stage rocket which carries an energy impulse enough for flying around the Moon. The total flight time is 8-9 days.

At the moment the project of Richard Branson looks more folksy than the project of RSA and many people are sure that watching the northern lights for $US 200.000 is more interesting and attractive than flying around the colourless Moon for $US 100 million. Seemingly head of Virgin Galactic intends to seriously compete with RSA in the sphere of space tourism.


Translated by Lavrentyeva Natalya


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