Ready for Take-Off

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic gets closer to becoming
the first commercial space airline.

For all of us who dreamed of being astronauts when we grew up, Sir Richard Branson says this year, the dream will become a reality.

Since 2005, Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space operation, has been taking deposits to guarantee a place for those who want to be first in space on SpaceShipTwo.

To date, approximately 630 “future astronauts” are part of Branson’s exclusive club. Those who have already paid their $250,000 fee — it must be paid in full and so far, the company has accepted nearly $80 million in deposits — have traveled to the sites where the spaceships are being built in California, and have been invited to Spaceport America in New Mexico to see test flights.

They’ve completed G-force training at a centrifuge facility in Philadelphia, and participated in zero gravity parabolic flights throughout the United States. Branson has hosted his “astronauts” at Necker Island, a 74-acre private island in the British Virgin Islands, which is owned by Branson. They have gone on safari with Branson, and have stayed at the Ice Hotel in the Arctic, where they visited Spaceport Sweden — Europe’s gateway to space.

The six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo is designed to be carried to an altitude of 45,000 to 50,000 feet by an airplane called WhiteKnightTwo. Once it reaches the altitude, the space liner is dropped, and its onboard rocket engine kicks on, accelerating the spacecraft up into suborbital space. In January, SpaceShipTwo successfully completed its third rocket-powered flight test after blasting through the sound barrier over California’s Mojave Desert — where it reached an altitude of 71,000 feet and a top speed over Mach 1.4, both of which were new records.

The 2½-hour voyage will allow passengers to experience six minutes of weightlessness. Branson said he and his family will be the only passengers on the maiden voyage. Virgin Galactic also offers the option for space travelers to charter their own spaceship for an exclusive flight with five of their closest friends.

Those interested can book online at the Virgin Galactic website. So, after you’ve paid your money, how long will you have to wait until liftoff?

“2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space,” says Branson.

 

LONDON CALLING
Fly before you buy. That’s one of the advantages of attending The Elite London’s first showcase, just 12 miles south of London, July 25 and 26. Demonstration flights by sales and charter operators will give visitors and prospective buyers the chance to be able to compare aircraft models.

Visitors to The Elite London will be hosted at Rizon Jet’s splendidly appointed, spacious VIP terminal — only two years old and already stacking up the awards. Combining Middle East and European hospitality, the spacious terminal has sumptuous dining areas, technologically advanced business suites, and even serene prayer rooms. The private location has become a favorite for travelers who wish to “fly under the radar.”

In addition to the range of new aircraft on display, The Elite London Jet-Set Lifestyle experience will feature a pre-owned enclosure where private sellers can exhibit their individual aircraft for sale. Helicopters, boats, cars, homes, property for sale, and luxury goods are also part of the two-day London luxury showcase. www.theeliteevent.

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