Virgin Galactic to take first space tourists this year, technology expert predicts

Virgin Galactic, part of British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group empire, is now flight testing VSS Unity, above, which would eventually take private astronauts to space. (AFP)
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Updated 06 February 2020

Virgin Galactic to take first space tourists this year, technology expert predicts

HELSINKI, Finland: Tourism is bound for new heights with the first space tourists predicted to suit up and travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere later this year, according to a space technology expert.

Darren Trofimczuk, an educational technology expert and lecturer at Finland’s Haaga-Helia University, predicted that Virgin Galactic, part of British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group empire, will be the first among the three key players to commercially fly tourists to space.

“The tourism sector is on the cusp of a huge change. This is the next space race and the journey has just started,” he told Arab News at a media briefing in Porvoo, Finland.

Virgin Galactic already has the spaceplane VSS Unity, which is in the latter stages of flight testing that included two piloted missions to the edge of space, and is assembling a second vehicle.

SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, is testing its Starship rocket, which is capable of carrying up to 100 people, while Blue Origin, formed by Amazon founder Geoff Bezos, last May announced plans to land a spacecraft named Blue Moon on the lunar surface.

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansouri’s historic mission to the International Space Station in September last year heightened the Gulf region’s interest with space and space tourism.

And Trofimczuk said the interest remains high despite the cost of suborbital travel anywhere from $250,000 to tens of millions of dollars depending on the destination.

But Trofimczuk said space tourism was especially appealing to the younger generation who dream of traveling ‘to infinity and beyond’, and see it as more than just riding a rocketship and zooming to the edge of Earth.

Haaga-Helia University, where Trofimczuk lectures on aviation degree programs, has a course module that can be tailored for Gulf students interested in space tourism, or even pursuing a career in it.

The six-stage program, conducted through personalized lectures, e-learning access and webinars, covers among other topics current research, trends, legislation and growth forecasting for the sector.

The course also focuses on how the space tourism sector could be economically sustainable without impacting heavily on the environment, according to Trofimczuk, who handles the course with Annette Toivonen, another specialist on sustainable space tourism at the university.

He said he believes that over time the costs of space travel will likely fall to more affordable prices, allowing the average middle-income earner to purchase a ticket – maybe even as low as $50,000 – possibly by at least 2030, Trofimczuk said.

“Students who have knowledge of space tourism will increase their chances of finding employment in a fast-growing sector,” he added. “Space tourism is new, but in five years it will build up awareness and in 10 years jobs would be created.”

UAE’s MeznSat satellite set for launch in Russia

Updated 28 September 2020

UAE’s MeznSat satellite set for launch in Russia

DUBAI: MeznSat, the UAE Space Agency’s latest satellite, is set for launch from the Plesetsk space center in northwestern Russia today as part of the country’s ambitious space strategy.

MeznSat, which detects greenhouse gas concentrations, was built by students from the Khalifa University and the American University of Ras Al Khaimah. The probe once in orbit will send data to the two universities’ ground stations, where it will be analyzed and processed, state news agency WAM reported

“Climate change has widely been attributed to the increase in GHGs in the atmosphere as a result of human activities. The impacts of climate change are expected to include shortage of water quantity and quality in most arid and semi-arid areas, and low agricultural productivity throughout the tropics and subtropics, accompanied by damage to ecosystems and biodiversity in these areas, and changes in forests and other ecosystems,” the space agency said in its website.

“Carbon Dioxide and Methane are the two most prevalent Greenhouse gases. Both emissions (methane and carbon dioxide) have to be addressed and monitored in order to effectively reduce the impact of climate change,” it added

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of UAE, earlier reviewed plans to send the first Arab mission to the moon by 2024 to be manned by Emirati astronauts.

The UAE’s new 2021-2031 strategy particularly covers the Mars Exploration Project “Hope Probe” 2117 Strategy, the Astronaut Program, the Satellite Development Program and the UAE Space Sector Sustainability Program.