Virgin Galactic has agreed to use the Italian spaceport
Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic has signed a contract with two Italian companies, Sitael and Altec, which are directly related to the aerospace industry. The essence of the treaty is the possibility for Americans to use the still unfinished spaceport at Grottaglie for suborbital flights. The spaceport is built by the two companies mentioned above.
In exchange, partners are given the opportunity to send their representatives on Virgin Galactic devices. Access to the space program and the Italian government, as well as scientific organizations. Branson's company has long been preparing for commercial suborbital flights. According to the plan, the flights will be organized not only for space tourists, but also scientific missions. Also, Americans are going to launch small satellites.
To implement its plans, Virgin Galactic has two SpaceShip Two suborbital spaceplanes . Independently on the Earth orbit, they can not go. Initially, the White Knight Two carrier aircraft lifts them to a height of about 15 kilometers . Then the spaceplane, using its own engines, overcomes the conventional Karman line , spends a few minutes at an altitude of 100 km and descends back to the cosmodrome.
Branson is actively promoting the idea of space tourism. If not for the accidentthe first in the series of the device, which was called VSS Enterprise, perhaps, tourists would already fly into space without any problems. After the accident, Virgin had a hard time: checks by regulators, law enforcement agencies, attacks by a number of media — all this had a negative pressure on Virgin Galactic's reputation.
But already in 2016, SpaceShipTwo , which was called the VSS Unity, made a test flight - though not into space, but in the atmosphere of the Earth, in the planning mode. In April 2018, the device turned on its engine and was able to overcome the super-narrow barrier.
As for the Italian spaceport, the company will not build launch tables for conventional launch vehicles. Virgin Galactic simply doesn’t have them. The spaceport itself is located in the province of Taranto, the commune of Grottaglia. Construction of the facility is carried out with the support of the Government of Italy. Not so long ago, the ENAC regulator said that the spaceport is great for a horizontal launch when flying into space.
The agreement was not signed suddenly, the parties discussed the details of the agreement for more than two years. The transaction was also evaluated by state regulators.
According to a number of experts, a horizontal (its second name is aircraft) start is more preferable than a vertical takeoff. However, only if we are talking about a reusable spacecraft. The fact is that a horizontal start makes it possible to perform a side maneuver when a ship is being withdrawn, in addition, the second stage can be launched at any time, and there is no azimuth limit in this case. In other words, space transport in the case of a horizontal launch is more maneuverable.
By the way, Branson does not plan to dwell only on spaceplanes. Not so long ago, another company appeared in the "cage" of Virgin subsidiaries. She called Virgin Orbit. According to the plan, the company will be engaged in the withdrawal of small satellites into low Earth orbit. The launch scheme is as follows: a special aircraft drives a small rocket to a height of about 11 km. And already from this height the rocket starts and goes into space. In turn, this rocket puts satellites into orbit — small ones, it is unable to lift tons of payload into space. Moreover, the fuel from the rocket is ordinary kerosene, and not cryofuel, which costs the companies quite expensive.
The cost of launching a satellite into orbit is quite low. According to representatives of the Virgin Orbit, the price of the output of the satellite will be about $ 10 million or even lower. The weight of the satellite cannot exceed half a ton.
In principle, satellites weighing up to 500 kg are very common. They run as a scientific organization, and commercial companies. Previously, in order to bring such cargo into orbit, it was necessary either to pay large sums of money, or to wait for their turn until a “window” was formed in the launches of large-size cargo of rich companies. Now, including, thanks to Branson, “niches” are emerging in the sphere of space transport. Private aerospace companies are becoming more and more, and the cost of putting cargo into orbit is falling.