Virgin Galactic’s Adam Wells on when we’ll see commercial space travel – and what it will be like
Adam Wells, Head of Design, Virgin Galactic, is leading the charge to create the world’s first commercial spaceline, facilitating space tourism for “anyone who wants to go”.
Speaking at the Passenger Experience Conference today in Hamburg, ahead of the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) opening tomorrow, Wells said: “Once upon a time, we were just a concept. We've come a long way since then. It's taken a long time, admittedly, a really, really long time –much longer than any of us thought. Doing things that are this radical, it's difficult.”
He added that over 600 customers “have been patiently waiting for us to start operating...but it is fast becoming real.”
Wells noted that since 2014, when the company’s prototype, Virgin Galactic VSS Enterprise, fatally crashed, the programme is back on track and “getting to the point where we can start commercial service.”
Earlier this month, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity successfully completed its first supersonic, rocket-powered flight.
The space experience
Virgin Galactic plans that civilian astronauts will train and take off from its New Mexico spaceport facility, which will be designed to help passengers “reflect and get mentally ready for this experience.”
Here’s how the company envisions that experience: Passengers will be towed in a vehicle to the runway where they will be boarded onto the spacecraft. They will take off and glide up to a height of around 50,000 feet, where the spaceship will be released.
“You'll get a countdown,” Wells said, “So satisfying some of these dreams that people have had of becoming an astronaut.”
He explained: “And then we will drop the spaceship. It will separate. It will fire its rocket and then it will start pointing itself upwards. You'll eventually find yourself pointing straight up going faster than sound. You'll start becoming aware that there is less and less air moving past the vehicle because you have arrived in space. The vehicle's rocket major will shut down. You will actually keep going outwards from Earth for a significant period…then start falling back.”
At this point passengers will get the chance to get up and out of their seat, floating around in the cabin, and looking at the view of Earth through the windows.
This brings interior design challenges of its own: “No one's ever had to design a commercial interior that has to work upside down,” Wells said.
The question on everyone’s lips is: When will we see commercial operation?
Wells' answer: “We have no idea.”
“We’re as impatient as anyone,” he added. “We are making progress…each flight test that is a success helps us get there sooner.
Richard Branson plans to be on the inaugural flight, Wells said and “wants to see it as soon as it can safely be done.”
Following Virgin Galactic’s latest milestone with VSS Unity’s test flight, the programme will now enter the next test phase.