Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic Announce Unity

When Gerry and Sylvia Anderson envisioned Space: 1999 back in the early 70s, they probably thought it would be the governments of the world that would take the first major steps toward colonising our solar system and enabling every day people to experience space.

While NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency and other similar organisations have done a great deal of work in this area, it’s private businesses that are looking further afield as they investigate space tourism and even space mining.

One such company is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic is a spaceflight company within the Virgin Group that is developing commercial spacecraft with the aim of providing suborbital spaceflights to tourists who want a space experience.  Virgin Galactic is also exploring suborbital launches for space science missions and actual orbital launches for small satellites.

One of Virgin Galactic‘s future goals is to conduct actual orbital spaceflights for every day human beings.

If you’d like to learn more about this fascinating company and their objectives, click here.

The company was founded by Sir Richard Branson and it’s certainly had its ups and downs since its formation in 2004.  Despite some setbacks, Sir Richard has never given up on his dream.

Following in the footsteps of WhiteKnightTwo (a custom-built, four-engine, dual fuselage jet aircraft that was designed to carry a suborbital vehicle up to an altitude of 50,000 feet for a safe and efficient launch), and the first SpaceShipTwo (a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry up to eight people into space that broke apart and crashed in 2014 over the Mojave Desert), Sir Richard unveiled Virgin Galactic‘s second SpaceShipTwo on the 19th of February in Mojave, California.

Professor Stephen Hawking named the new vehicle VSS (Virgin Spaceship) Unity via a recorded speech and said “I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship.”

Along with Space X and a few other private companies, Virgin Galactic is taking some exciting steps forward in making spaceflight a relatively inclusive experience.  I say ‘relatively’, because the cost per passenger isn’t something many of us will be able to afford.

While the eventual commercialisation of space is exciting, it’s also a little frightening.

In 1967 the United Nations sponsored “Outer Space Treaty” established all of outer space as an international commons by forbidding all of the nations of the world from claiming territorial sovereignty over any body or location beyond our planet.

That Treaty was ratified by 102 countries, including all major space-faring nations.  In association with that Treaty, the “Moon Treaty” was finalised in 1979 and came into force in 1984, forbidding private ownership of extraterrestrial real estate.  Sadly, as of the 1st of January 2013, only 15 governments had ratified the agreement and none of them were major space-faring nations.

All of this has become very relevant recently, as people start to ask questions about mining asteroids, mining the moon, and even establishing tourist hot spots on Luna and Mars.

One thing is for certain, if there is money to be made out of the moon, Mars or any object in the solar system, legal challenges will eventually make things like the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty irrelevant – or it will modify them significantly.  When we look beyond the financial gain some businesses would be set to make by mining objects in our solar system, the simple fact that Earth’s resources are disappearing may make it all a moot point.  In some minds, it seems more and more imperative we explore the possibility of colonising our solar system.

As we move forward into this ‘brave’ (?) new world of space tourism and potential corporate expansion into the solar system, it will be interesting to see how the governments of the world and the United Nations shape up to deal with these challenges – and the amazing potential that lies beyond our beautiful blue-green world.

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