SPACESHIP TWO has successfully flown, or rather glided, for the first time with its rocket motor installed, inching the Virgin Galactic project closer to a maiden space voyage. The spacecraft returned to its New Mexico base following its release from White Knight Two, where the Mohave Spaceport is being built to facilitate the commercial space operations. Interestingly, more recently a potential destination in Europe has also come into fruition.
Kiruna is a small Swedish town within the Arctic circle, home to 18,000 inhabitants served by an equally diminutive airport. It is also the planned location for SpacePort Sweden, which is collaborating with Virgin Galactic to be the first European Space gateway.
This decision is not as incidental as it first seems. Kiruna has developed strong roots in the Space industry, with organisations such as EISCAT and ESTRACK (two satellite and communication monitoring stations) based there, as well as Esrange, which also tests sub-orbital souding rockets. SpacePort Sweden would be an almost natural addition to this collection.
In addition to this, SpacePort Sweden could also be able to sustain a quantifiable tourism market thanks to the proximity of the Icehotel, an exclusive hotel constructed completely from ice that has to be rebuilt annually.
Development and testing of Virgin Galactic continues, with over 600 tickets now sold at a price of $200,000 each. Tentative plans to begin commercial operations in 2015 have been discussed though the company has stated that these could change. All these flights will return to the Mohave base however, as with SpacePort Sweden, more possible destinations are being studied, particularly in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.