Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Moray: World’s First Commercial Spaceport?

If Virgin CEO Richard Branson already has the first purpose-built spacecraft for space tourism in the works, will Moray be it’s first spaceport?

By: Vanessa Uy

If the Scottish National Party and Virgin CEO Richard Branson gets their way, every potential space tourist with enough money will be soon going into space via the former RAF airbase in Moray. Towards the end of December 2008, the Scottish National Party or SNP has been very busy calling for the development of the former Royal Air Force base in Moray to be developed as the world’s first commercial spaceport. The world’s first designed exclusively for space tourist to access space at a cost a fraction of that currently provided by existing launch systems. Like the 20 million-dollar per person price tag of the Soyuz spacecraft of the Baikanour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The SNP ‘s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, wants Virgin Galactic to use RAF Lossiemouth in his constituency as an airbase exclusively for use in space tourism. Virgin has already identified the base as a possible location for commercial space enterprise. “The prospect of space flight from Scotland is a serious and exciting one.” Says Mr. Robinson. Will Whitehorn of Virgin Galactic had already checked out the RAF Lossiemouth site as far back as 2007. If they succeed, will this make the UK the world’s first regular space faring society - never mind the future leader when it comes to space commerce?

Everyone’s optimism when it comes to space tourism enterprise being run by a private corporation harks back to the golden age of “barnstorming” a few years after World War I. Back then, everyone who can afford – especially rich civilians – were busy building and flying “homemade aircraft”. Some of which flew much faster compared to planes then in regular service of most government-run air corps. There are even those philanthropic types who picked disadvantaged citizens the rare fortune of experiencing flight first-hand.

Today, even though space tourists who can afford the proposed 10,000 US dollars or so price tag of rocketing 60miles or 100kilometers into space just to experience the sensation of weightlessness first hand for more than a few seconds are growing. Most of us can hardly afford a low-cost airfare to visit those Seven Wonders of the World sites – let alone a near-space joyride. But given that technology is already in the works to slash the cost of space tourism even further, who knows that there would be some of us who will actually have their regular jobs in space, rather than just “mere tourists”.

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