The Branson Borealis

From The Guardian Unlimited:

It looks like a cut-price version of the set of a Bond movie. Blocky, 60s-style white consoles face a large wall-mounted video screen, each covered in dials and buttons with words like “pump on”, “fire” and “liftoff” written on them. Only the slightly shabby appearance of the place and the metre-high inflatable rocket in the corner indicate that this is not the home of cat-stroking villains but a place of academic study.

The operations room of the Esrange space centre near Kiruna in the far north of Sweden is one of a handful of places in the world that perform space launches. The facility, 200 kilometres north of the Arctic circle, is used by the European Space Agency and others to launch rockets and balloons for studying the upper atmosphere and the effects of microgravity. It also serves as a monitoring station for numerous satellites that orbit between the north and south poles.

In three years, if all goes to plan, Esrange will act as mission control for the European outpost of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

The company hopes to begin commercial space flights from a purpose-built spaceport in New Mexico in 2010, but flights from Kiruna should follow soon afterwards. Once they are up and running, Virgin Galactic expects to be flying about 5,000 passengers a year.

Sweden offers one important advantage over the US, though. Passengers paying $200,000 (about £100,000) a ticket for the two-hour flight will be able to fly into the aurora borealis – the northern lights – something that no human has done before.

The idea was the brainchild of Will Whitehorn, Sir Richard’s right-hand man and president of Virgin Galactic. “When I asked the question 18 months ago, ‘what about flying into [the northern lights]?’ everybody said, ‘possible, but we don’t know what the view would look like’,” he said.

Scientists at Esrange have been flying rockets into the aurora since the 1960s, but no one has put a camera on board before, let alone a person, because it was of no scientific interest.

The mysterious shimmering curtains of coloured light that fill the night sky in winter are caused by charged particles in the solar wind. Esrange and the nearby Swedish Institute of Space Physics have studied the lights for decades and Dr Olle Norberg, Esrange’s director, is convinced that it will be safe to fly into their midst.

That’s a pretty good first idea of selling private space tourism to prospective buyers. Branson is no dummy, he’s made billions of dollars (I’m sure he prefers pounds, especially now) with his Virgin Airlines and other ventures. Taking paying customers to get upclose and personal with the Northern Lights would be quite the experience I’m sure.

Of course as the article states, shielding the electronics of the space-liner is extremely essential to keep your business coming, deadly accidents have a habit of increasing your overhead costs into bankruptsy, start-ups in particular.

I’m certain if anyone can pull this off, Branson will.

Hat tip to Universe Today


13 responses

  1. Branson isn’t the only entrepeneur investing in space tourism. He and Burt Rutan seem likely to be the first ones out of the gate, just on the virtue of Branson’s deep pockets and Rutan’s experience.

    It’s been pointed out to me that private space industry won’t get much beyond this stage because of the cost. $200,000 per ticket ain’t chump change I’ll admit and I’ll never be able to afford it.

    But when compared to the cost of government funded launches, it’s bargain basement.

    But hey, if private space industry is going to happen, it’s gotta start somewhere, somehow.

    We’ll have to wait and see if it’ll lead to bigger things.

  2. Hi dad2059…

    This is another case of zoo chimps armed with loaded machine guns; the safety off. Hey daddy are we going to the zoo today? No Virginia, it’s simply gotten too dangerous for visitors… :))

    So in the quest of more bucks, excitement, adventure on the high seas of unfettered capitalism we have Branson, Rhutan et. al. using space more specifically the ionosphere as their personal money-machine.

    There’s never any shortage of wealthy pinheads who have the bucks to buy a ticket to somewhere. The world is their toilet bowl…no?

    The Concorde was an example of flying at supersonic speeds “over the ocean” due to the prohibition of sonic boom effects over populated areas. I believe tickets were initially $3,000 finally leveling off to the $1800 range in the later years of it’s service. Of course it didn’t fly in space.

    Recently you posted an article concerning HAARP along with speculation on its effects on climate, the ionosphere and the health of the planet in general including the migration of birds which evidently fly by a sense of magnetic lines of force no different than a compass.

    Granted Branson, Rhutan, et. al. in their early day endeavors won’t impact the ionosphere with low level traffic, but visualize after it catches on and the big boys climb onboard and there’s thousands of these eco-damaging flights so that the chimps with more money than they can intelligently handle wanna fly in space… /:)

    If we don’t do ourselves with nukes or the planet is soon blessed with an asteroid incoming soon, poor Mother Earth is going to die simply the “death by a thousand cuts” at the hands of chimps with bucks…!

    I’m not anti-science, but withwout environmental oversight prior to the implementation of a new technology or newer application of existing capabilities as in this case; we will continually be cleaning up some mess as a function of out of control, unfettered capitalism.

    There’s simply too many people living on an already eco-damaged planet to continue with this potentially deadly nonsense.

    I rest my case.

    Carl Nemo**==

  3. visualize after it catches on and the big boys climb onboard and there’s thousands of these eco-damaging flights so that the chimps with more money than they can intelligently handle wanna fly in space…

    Interesting take Carl. What do you mean by “eco-damaging”? Polluting the ionosphere with rocket exhaust? I think Rutan uses what I believe is called “hybrid rocket technology”, which is a combination of solid and liquid fuels. It’s not as volitle as liquid fuels, but it’s a little harder to throttle. With a proper choice of fuels (oxidizer-nitrous oxide, propellant-synthetic rubber) it can be more eco-friendly than cryogenic-chemical rockets.

    Here’s a wiki-link:, that describes it in detail.


    I think we have to worry more about HAARP than wealthy primates messing up the ionosphere.

    At least one isn’t hellbent on destroying us all!

  4. Hi dad2059…

    As I mentioned in my post; the problem is not simply with Branson and Rhutan, but the impact due to large numbers of sub-orbital flights etc. We all know that fluorodated hydrocarbons damage the atmosphere. So here we have nitrous oxide and synthetic rubber and PVC based fuels.

    Nitrous oxide is on the rise along with CO2 and seems to track global warming trends. I’ll provide a link wtih a graph showing rising nitrous oxide levels. Nitrogen itself represents 79 percent of the earths atmosphere and when fixed into the soil represents a valuable fertilizing element, but ever-building atmospheric nitrous oxide residues is another matter.

    We also know that burning tires is a no-no in landfills nowadays because of the atomizatioin of the rubber creating atmospheric particulates. They chop-em up and then through advanced recycling processes create new products from the tires.

    Again, I repeat, a limited number of these type of flights will not impact the eco-system, but lets project to the year 2050 and providing we haven’t done ourselves as a race of beings, there will be some headline concerning the ozone layer, hazing effects due to atmospheric contaminants enhancing the greenhouse effect etc.; ie., excessive nitrous oxides and synthetic rubber and PVC particulates etc. linked to the great number of hypersonic exo-atmospheric flights. Then the chimps will all be scratching their collective asses again saying “wut da f**k”…no?!

    My thesis is we need to “head-off” these problems before they even take root. Some serious environmental modeling concerning the combustion bi-products from these craft in ever greater numbers before they become a novel or entrenched way for people to travel. On any given day there are nominally 5,000 flights of conventional aircraft over U.S. airspace. So in addition to these craft maybe there’l be thousands of international flights of the Branson/Rhutan genre’. Ouch ! 😕

    Carl Nemo **==

  5. “On any given day there are nominally 5,000 flights of conventional aircraft over U.S. airspace.”

    And I’ll wager Gore is an at least two of those!

  6. True, environmental studies should be taken and I’m sure they will before Virgin Galactic starts taking flights up. As for the shear volume of future flights, I foresee sub-orbital flights eliminating alot of these airlines currently in business, because you can get there faster. It’ll simply replace current flight systems, so the pollution probably won’t get any worse than it is now.

    Also the data you posted showed clear, natural causes of climate change. It probably would’ve happened anyway, although at a slower rate I’ll admit.

    Good argument Carl, but I’m a life long space nut. You’ll never convince me it’s a bad thing.

    I’ll put this to you, if we took all of the money we currently spend on wars and fully fund an aggressive space program, complete with colonization plans and advanced spacecraft manufacturing techniques, would we be just as bad off? Would life on Earth be any worse?

    Or do you think that we could be living Star Trek instead of the combination of 1984 and Brave New World?

  7. “Also the data you posted showed clear, natural causes of climate change. It probably would’ve happened anyway, although at a slower rate I’ll admit.”

    Shhhhh… Marine… the great Suzuki will hear you!

  8. Well, what do you think?:

    12,000 BP (before present) – Rapid Climate Change

    Graph of climate change

    Ice cores have revealed that global climate–long thought to change only very gradually–can shift with frightening speed, in some cases in a matter of years. As this graph shows, one such jump occurred about 12,000 years ago, as the last glacial period (the Pleistocene) was giving way to our current warm “interglacial” period (the Holocene). Suddenly, possibly in less than five years, average temperatures, which were slightly cooler than today’s, plunged by about 27°F, returning the world to near-glacial conditions. (As the graph indicates, calcium levels tend to go up and snow accumulation down with temperature, which is estimated by comparing the ratio of oxygen isotopes in water–see “Temperature” in core at left.) The Younger Dryas, as this freak period is known, lasted about 1,300 years before it returned–just as abruptly–to the temperatures typical of the period immediately preceding it.

    Also there is some data there that shows carbon increases due to human activity also, which is the crux of Carl’s argument that mass amounts of sub-orbital flights will pollute the atmosphere more than it already has. I say once the technology proves feasible, sub-orbital flights will replace business class flights IMO. So the pollution might not change.

    I got off my topic somewhat, but moving off the Earth is a sound premise, government or privately funded.

    Nothing else is working. As long as the NWO lackeys make money through war and death, nothing will change.

  9. Hi dad2059…

    Thanks for your interest in the link and your thoughtful analysis of the associated data.

    Btw, I want to make myself clear. I am not against sub-orbital flight or flights to anywhere using current or future technology. I’m mainly concerned about modern day earthmen breaking a nasty habit of lurching ahead without thinking things out clearly; ie., taking into account advances in science and technology along with their associated impact on our “space ship earth” and it’s captive passengers.

    Our recent discussion concerning GMO’s and nanotechnology is another example. They are pushing this technology and running forward without serious indepth analysis concerning the consequences of an unforseen mistake/accident relative to these recent breakthroughs in science. Why does science and industry continually push the envelope; marketing their discoveries without proactive, responsible safeguards. No, they typically wait for accident to happen where thousands to millions of people are damaged or worse forcing government to step in on behalf of the citizenry. The nanotech “gray goo” scenario just might happen; then what will these greedy corporate guys and their army of hard science geeks have to say?! : |

    We’ve gone from bakelite to carbon fiber technology using nanotubes in less than a hundred years. The same from black powder weapons of the Civil War to nukes by the mid-20th century and from earth to moon from the V1-V2’s of WWII to the Saturn V in 1969, a period of 24 years! Science and technology is accelerating at an exponential pace, but mankind is still conducting business as usual; ie., draggin’ his club through the mud; e.g., my earlier reference to “chimps with machineguns”…!

    This exchange has been enjoyable.

    Carl Nemo **==

  10. The nanotech “gray goo” scenario just might happen; then what will these greedy corporate guys and their army of hard science geeks have to say?! : |

    True. And the corporate greedy guys will make sure they have an adequate back-up plan to save their asses if an accident happens.

    Someday, I hope to ride somebody’s sub-orbital spaceplane to Oz so I can drink a 40 ounce can of Foster’s in a genuine Aussie pub before I die.

    My idea of Heaven. 😎

  11. Hi dad2059…

    Damn, you like Foster’s too?! Usually when I’m cranking out my web material I have a pint of green can bitters close at hand. Foster’s is my “thought fuel” of choice… : D

    Nemo **==

  12. There are actually a plethora of companies getting involved in the Space Tourism race, not just Branson’s Virgin Galactic. One of the most compelling is the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), which happens to be the second largest aerospace company in the world behind Boeing. More importantly, EADS recently signed on to develop a version of SpaceShipOne’s “rocketplane xp.” This is a huge development in terms of the evolution of space tourism covered by, which recently did a feature on Space Tourism. A must read for interested parties.


    The Issue |

  13. I love Foster’s!

    Along with Coronas.

    I love the taste of strong bitters! 😎

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