Virgin Galactic may be closing in on launching its first-ever commercial space flight, but the company is also thinking about how its technology can help improve travel on Earth, as well. Speaking at the Wired 2013 event in London, Virgin Galactic's commercial director Stephen Attenborough hinted that his company's spaceplans might be the basis for long haul aviation across the planet someday. "If we can get this first step right, take people into space and keep them safe in commercially viable aircraft," Attenborough said, Virgin might be able to "push long haul aviation." The bottom line could be flights between London and Australia in as little as 2.5 hours — and Attenborough said that such a flight would be better for the environment, since emissions would be released outside of the Earth's atmosphere rather than within it.
There's no timeline for when this might happen, unfortunately, but Attenborough did give a preview of what a typicalVirgin Galactic space flight would be like. It starts with six passengers strapped into Spaceship Two — which itself is attached to a larger "carrier aircraft." After ascending to about 50,000 feet (the same cruising altitude of the Concorde), the spaceship is released. Following a countdown, its rockets fire, and Spaceship Two hits the speed of sound within six seconds. It's an event that sounds like the most dramatic part of the flight, but it'll end abruptly as the ship cuts its engines and hits zero-gravity.
"Just when you are getting used to the noise, vibration, g-forces, the sheer — I was going to say terror — the sheer thrill of it all, then they cut the rocket motors out," said Attenborough. "So you suddenly weigh nothing at all. There's no point being in zero gravity if you are just going to be strapped to a chair." Passengers will only get a few minutes of floating in zero gravity, but it'll likely be one of the most memorable experiences of the flight. "Everything that dictates the way we live will be gone," said Attenborough. Whether or not that's worth the $250,000 price to reserve a seat on Spaceship Two will be up to you to decide.