The heat insulation problem that led to the deaths of Israeli astronaut Ilan
Ramon and six colleagues from NASA in the Columbia space shuttle in 2003 has
been “solved” by a newly designed tail, making the first commercial sub-orbital
space flight – scheduled in 18 months – much safer.
The Israeli branch of
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Galactic Dreamline, has already sold an
undisclosed number of $200,000 tickets to Israelis. Worldwide, 425 have already
The out-of-this-world opportunity is expected to find a market
among major companies that want to show gratitude to employees who have made
them fortunes and are regarded as deserving of the hugely expensive,
two-and-a-half- hour experience. But there will be no flight attendants, food or
drink, or even a toilet, as passengers on SpaceShipTwo will spend only five
minutes in actual spaceflight. The rest of the time will be used to rocket 110
kilometers heavenwards and come back.
“Anyone who cannot hold on without
a bathroom should wear adult diapers,” Eliron Yaron, CEO of Tel Aviv’s Galactic
Dreamline, told The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday. In fact, adult diapers may be
needed, as 60-year-old British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson will make the
trip along with his parents, Edward James and Eve Branson, who are in their
Yaron said that in addition to the astronaut pilot, there will be
six passenger seats. When they are in space, they may unbuckle their safety
belts and float inside the craft, taking photos with their cameras.
technical problem that felled Columbia was the ceramic tiles meant to insulate
the shuttle from the heat buildup caused by re-entering the atmosphere. Some had
been dislodged during launch, and Columbia disintegrated.
aviation designer Burt Rutan and his firm Scaled Composites have been working
hard in the Mojave Desert in New Mexico to develop a safer way to prevent heat
According to Yaron, Rutan’s solution was recently proven
successful during tests in New Mexico. Although he’s not a scientist, Yaron says
he knows a lot about the project and expects to go on one of the early
Instead of tiles, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise
has a special tail made of composite materials whose angle can be readily
shifted so that during re-entry, the friction will be diverted, explained Yaron.
Thus, the spaceship will be light, save fuel, pollute less and be much safer
without having to worry about protective tiles. When preparing to land, the
pilot will be able to move the tail as in an ordinary aircraft.
years ago, Rutan’s SpaceShipOne was awarded the $10 million Ansari X Prize for
“The shuttle traveled at 28,000 kilometers per hour, while
we will travel suborbitally at lower speed,” Yaron explained. “ The maneuverable
tail, just a few meters long, is reusable.
“This really advances us
closer to commercial flights,” he said, adding that some wellheeled Israelis,
including company owners who want to hand out tickets as a bonus for special
workers, are very interested in the service.
“The proven success of the
wing brings us a giant step ahead,” he declared.
A $500 million
“spaceport” is now being constructed in New Mexico, having received
encouragement from former governor Bill Richardson.
“It will be the first
commercial, private airport to space,” Yaron told the Post
While no life
or accident insurance will be available for the first commercial flight of
SpaceShipTwo, said Yaron, it is expected to follow later. But, he said, it will
be no more dangerous than many other activities on Earth.
Lindbergh, who was the first to fly across the Atlantic in 1927, didn’t have any
insurance either,” he said.
“And using a skateboard is also risky. Risk
is statistical; life is dangerous as long as you live. We don’t think it
is any riskier than ordinary things in life.”
When they land, passengers
are likely to be offered expensive champagne and presented with an “astronaut’s
ring” to show off. They will not need a protective spacesuit or special
Virgin Galactic is building a fleet of five space
vehicles and is planning two flights per day.
The astronaut pilots “do
not work for NASA; we are more advanced than the space administration. NASA
consults with us!” said Yaron.
So that critics cannot claim there is no
purpose to the flights beyond allowing passengers to boast, Yaron disclosed that
scientific experiments will be conducted during the flights, such as examining
the behavior in zero-gravity of pharmaceuticals.