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Space tourism to take off in Kiruna

Stuart Roberts · 12 Dec 2009, 12:48

Published: 12 Dec 2009 12:48 GMT+01:00

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“Space tourism sounds like science fiction, but we are talking about only a number of years into the future,” Johanna Bergström-Roos, from the Esrange space centre in Kiruna, told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

Earlier last week, billionaire Richard Branson paraded his company Virgin Galactic’s specially designed tourist ship ‘SpaceShipTwo’, which will take tourists out into space. Virgin Galactic, has selected two 'spaceports', from where tourists will be able to launch into space. One of the spaceports is in New Mexico, while the other is the Sweden Spaceport, in Kiruna.

If all goes according to plan, space tourists may be flocking to Kiruna within several years. “Virgin Galactic has its spaceport in America and will commence their first flights there in 2011. When they have been operating for half a year, it will then be time for the European market, and they’ll then come to us,” Bergström-Roos told Dagens Nyheter.

In an earlier interview with TV4, Branson said that space journeys from Kiruna could be a reality by 2012. “We would love to send up people in a rocket so that they get to experience the northern lights from space. Sweden has been very welcoming and very enthusiastic about this project, so I am hopeful that fairly soon after we start our space programme from New Mexico we can start up in the north of Sweden.”

Virgin Galactic’s spaceship carries six passengers and two pilots. The spaceship is attached to a mothership that looks like an airplane. The mothership carries the spaceship to approximately 15 kilometers above the earth (ordinary intercontinental airplanes fly at around 10 kilometers high).

At 15,000 metres, the mothership releases the spaceship, which freefalls before its rocket motors fire up, accelerating the spaceship upwards again. The rocket’s motors are turned off again and the rocket continues in its upwards trajectory until it reaches its zenith point, when it freefalls again. “This is called air launch. The spaceship starts in the air from free fall and glides for approximately 90 seconds, to about 10 kilometers high. A little like a rollercoaster, first free fall and then up in the air at full speed,” explained Bergström-Roos.

Story continues below…

“When the spaceship travels in free fall the passengers are weightless … Then they are unlatched from their chairs and they drop to the floor so they can tumble about and explore the experience of weightlessness,” she added. After four or five minutes it’s time to fasten themselves in again, as they head back into the Earth’s atmosphere. The entire trip will take around two-and-a-half hours.

Virgin Galactic chose Kiruna ahead of numerous other spaceports around the world that were vying for the space tourism company's patronage. “We have space expertise, fantastic wild nature, the northern lights and the ice hotel. It is not a bad package,” said Bergström-Roos, while emphasizing that Kiruna spaceport is an optimal place for space journeys from a safety standpoint. The area is uninhabited by the public, and Spaceport Sweden has conducted rocket launches since 1966.

Stuart Roberts (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

14:01 December 12, 2009 by Nemesis
What more could you ask for, Northern Lights, Snow and a trip to space.

I like Kiruna as well.
18:43 December 12, 2009 by Bensonradar
What great timing to promote this! With the climate summit a Copenhagen and CO2 emissions and global warming, is the fuel this spaceship using GREEN or will it add more pollution to the atmosphere?

Also, with the financial meltdown and growing unemployment, will people who cannot afford to eat and heat their houses adequately be cheering on those few millionaires who can afford this ridiculous stunt?
19:05 December 12, 2009 by Nemesis
@ Bensonradar

The fuel is far from Green, but Branson is a major investor in trying to develop green fuels for space flight and is actually making progress, with research here in Sweden, Germany and France.


No matter what the luddites say, our future is in space.

This project is driving technology forward.

We need to increase our spending globally on research and development to at least 3% whihc Sweden has done and move away from the backward looking superstitions of religeon and ideology.

We more or less have the technology to move to a green society, what we do not have is the political will to do so.

Strangely the main leader in producing green technology is now China. They are now building the first zero emissions cities.

We need to catch up with China in that respect.
19:40 December 12, 2009 by Rolf100
This project was designed in California BUT could not get a permit to fly commercially because of the risk (test flights do not need a commercial permit). I wonder how much risk is assumed by Sweden permitting such a venture to take place on their soil?
20:02 December 12, 2009 by Beavis
I suppose you will also complain about the jobs created from this, the new other small industries created? And millionaires coming to Sweden to splash thie money around. Suppose too youll be irratated at the taxes Branson will have to pay to the Swedish governmet.

As for the so called global warming..its bloody freezing out.
03:37 December 13, 2009 by Davey-jo
I'd be very wary of putting any money in any venture connected with Branson. His track record is ridiculous. 90% of his ventures fail within months of starting. He just walks away from anything that fails as if it was nothing to do with him! He must be made of Teflon.
06:52 December 13, 2009 by jake34782
Sure it will only be affordable to the rich, but so is anything else when it first starts out. And yes Virgin Galactic is working to make space travel a green business, just read up on their website. The trip will create emissions equivalent to a one way trans-Atlantic flight, which is by far the lowest emission rocket ever, and becaue Branson and Rutan are pioneers in clean rocket and air travel, that number will eventually go down, eventually to nothing. Once proven, this will also lead to much cleaner technologies in the near future of getting satellites and astronauts in to space. Also their spaceport in New Mexico will be LEED Platinum. You should also think ahead into the future, I too am an environmentalist, and I think the greenest thing we can possibly do is to start moving some of our massive population into space, but you've got to start somewhere.
17:11 December 13, 2009 by here for the summer
Jobs and industry for Sweden .. Congratulations to Branson and Sweden .
18:55 December 13, 2009 by uunbeliever
Isn't Kiruna a better launch site for orbit?
23:15 December 13, 2009 by Leprechaun .se
"the mothership" xD
01:49 December 14, 2009 by mkvgtired
This has been very exciting to watch. It takes someone with a very special character to even attempt a venture like this. I wish him and his passengers the best.
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