Added 3 new A* pages:Woohoo episode 11 kick-off!|
I ran across a BBC article / news segment about the opening of the runway at "the world's first spaceport" last week; this is Virgin group billionaire Sir Richard Branson's operating center for his "SpaceShip" shuttle in New Mexico, "Spaceport America" (Branson himself is British; too bad he didn't go with "SpacePort Brittania!"). The craft will be hauled up to 50,000 feet by a more conventional aircraft (still kinda funky twin fuselage design there), from which point it boosts on its own to 62 miles up; in the three-hour round-trip up and back, passengers who ponied up Ł127,000 will enjoy 5 minutes of weightlessness. Steep! Also, make sure you go before you leave, because the SpaceShip has no bathroom.
In a way, calling it the "first spaceport" isn't exactly fair, since the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan has supported commercial rocket launches for a long time now, and I think even NASA has launched commercial stuff--corporate satellites or something, maybe? well I don't know--in their shuttles from Cape Canaveral. Didn't they also have a paying passenger or two in a widely publicized thing a few years back, anyway? Buuuut I suppose there hasn't been a facility dedicated to taking paying customers up there, so maybe we'll allow it.
The other quibble with the title is that 62 miles up is only in the lower part of the thermosphere, still part of Earth's atmosphere, albeit a very low-pressure one; the International Space Station is way higher--200 miles up--and even that's still the thermosphere.
(Hm well I suppose I stand corrected on that point: a bunch of people consider 100 km, or 62 miles, the "edge of space" (the BBC even used that specific phrase in their video), dubbed the Kármán line after the Hungarian-American engineer by that name who figured that it was the maximum altitude at which you could hope to get any aeronautical lift in an aircraft. Interestingly, the US still holds to an old and rather arbitrary "they went at least 50 miles up" yardstick for deciding who is and is not an official astronaut.)
Oh and I suppose I was also thinking that it isn't much of a port, considering that its traffic won't actually be traveling and stopping at a distant destination--although I'm sure they'd love to have a commercial station up there they could dock with. Maybe that's the next big step once they get the flying up there part down.
The craft is pretty small and slender, and I was surprised at first that it doesn't need any big disposable boosters or fuel tanks, but in addition to the relatively low "space" flight ceiling, I guess it doesn't have any real cargo it has to lift, aside from passengers. If they ever do get to the space station stage they might need something with a bit more muscle.