Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
As Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic continues preparations to soon offer passengers a few minutes in suborbital space, those who have already reserved a spot on the company’s next-gen space plane are getting a chance to experience weightlessness ahead of schedule.
Virgin Galactic has teamed up with Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G) to provide future astronauts the opportunity to experience zero gravity without leaving the Earth’s atmosphere. As part of the partnership, ZERO-G has already taken three flights with some of Virgin Galactic’s ticket holders aboard. The flights, which took off from Burbank, California, were aboard a specially modified Boeing-727 known as G-FORCE ONE.
During the ZERO-G flight, specially trained pilots perform a series of parabolic arcs – aerobatic maneuvers – to create a weightless environment. The maneuvers are not simulated and allow passengers to float, flip and soar through the plane as if they were actually in space. ZERO-G is the first and only FAA-approved company to provide commercial weightless airplane flights for the public.
“We are excited about this new relationship and look forward to introducing even more Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts to the amazing feeling of weightlessness,” said Terese Brewster, President and COO of ZERO-G. “These flights are definitely an enhancement to their upcoming trip on SpaceShipTwo.”
“It’s an utterly amazing feeling to be floating in zero-G. It’s literally out of this world!” said Joanne Le Bon, Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut and ZERO-G flyer.
For the time being, a flight on G-FORCE ONE will be the next best thing to flying in outer space for many. Virgin Galactic has taken more than 640 reservations (Ashton Kutcher was the 500th signer) for a suborbital trip aboard the company’s future space plane, which is expected to start commercial operations in 2014.
While Branson’s efforts are likely the most well-known and most-talked-about, another company is also working to offer passengers a trip to suborbital space.
XCOR — which is working on its own space plane called the Lynx — is offering to take people on a 30-minute suborbital flight to 330,000 feet.
“We are building the vehicle right now, and hope to begin flight tests early next year,” said Andrew Nelson, Chief Operating Officer of XCOR, in an interview with The Evening Standard’s Mark Prigg. So far XCOR has sold more than 300 flights.
The Lynx will offer a very different experience than Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo. With Virgin Galactic, six passengers will sit in the rear of the craft and can float around in zero gravity for a few moments as the plane reaches suborbital space. Lynx can only handle one extra passenger, who will be strapped in securely next to the pilot. However, Lynx passengers will get to experience 3o minutes in space before returning to the world below. As well, Lynx tickets only cost $100,000, compared to Virgin Galactic’s $250,000 per seat.
Launches of the crafts will also be much different.
“Our vehicle takes off from the ground like a normal aircraft but under rocket power, and flies up to the edge of space, before coming back and landing like a glider,” Nelson said in the interview. “We think it’s much simpler. We can do it because our engines are much more efficient, we don’t need a carrier aircraft, which adds complexity and cost, and we don’t have to replace any of the engine after each flight. We’re a gas and go operation like a 737.”
While Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo must launch from a mothership, it will also glide back to Earth after its suborbital trip.