Virgin Galactic has signed a deal with the FAA that will formally allow them to charter space flights from their New Mexico base. It also specifies rules for how those flights will integrated into United States airspace (the place where non-space planes usually fly.) The deal is a major step for commercial space travel and puts Virgin Galactic on track to start offering flights by the end of 2014.
The Wire spoke with Virgin Galactic spokesperson Jessica Ballard, via email, to learn a bit more about space tourism. Ballard told us that the first trip out of "Spaceport America" in New Mexico will be reserved for Sir Richard Branson and his family. After that, flights will be available to the masses. Well, the masses who can afford a ride. The tickets are $250,000 per person, but if you want to charter the entire plane for a large group there might be a small discount.
Once you've ponied up the $250,000, you get to experience three days of preparation at Spaceport America before you can go up. The preparation includes "team-bonding and training onsite." Space tourists will be "learning how to make the most of the time in microgravity and tips on how to be comfortable and safe in macro gravity will form an important part of the preparation, as well as to be thoroughly familiar with all safety and emergency procedures."
The actual flight is about two hours long. The SpaceShipTwo "will hitch a one hour ride up to a launch altitude of 46,000 to 47,000 feet attached to WhiteKnightTwo, the specially-designed carrier aircraft or mothership. When the launch altitude is reached, the spaceship is released and ignites its hybrid rocket motor." Then, the fun part begins: the spaceship accelerates within eight seconds to supersonic speeds, eventually reaching Mach 3.5. Then, there are a few minutes of weightlessness (that's what you paid the $250k for after all.) The flight takes you up to a maximum altitude of 68 miles.
So, now that the FAA has signed off, Virgin can officially and legally take you to space come December.