Tech trends 2014: Kiwis in space

LATEST: Check out Derek Handley's appearance in the NBC story Virgin Galactic Space Tourists Shed Pounds (and Fears) on Zero-G Flight

Sir Richard Branson says his space tourism start-up will launch commercial flights in August this year.

The first passengers aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which seats six passengers and two pilots, will be Sir Richard and various Branson family members.

Following them will be 637 others (and counting) as Virgin Galactic – all going well – gears up for five commercial flights a day.

Among them will be eight Kiwis.

They include a real estate agent, a surgeon, Rocket Lab co-founder Mark Rocket (yes, he did change his surname) and Snakk Media chairman and Iliad fund manager Derek Handley (who also serves as CEO of Sir Richard’s charitable outfit Plan B, which uses its members’ business skills to tackle social and environmental problems).

They will rub shoulders with other early ticket holders, who range from space enthusiasts to space cadets like Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Paris Hilton.

If you want to join them, tickets cost $US250,000 a pop; House of Travel has been appointed Virgin Galactic’s first “space agent” for NZ.

Same have groused that Virgin Galactic does not technically fly into space. It’s maximum altitude is a sub-orbital 110km (the international Space Station orbits between 330km and 435km).

Still, it’ll be high enough to see the curvature of the earth, and enjoy four minutes of weightlessness during the 2.5 hour trip.

And indeed, long-term, Space Ship Two, could be more about faster international air travel than conquering the stars.

Sir Richard says it could be used to fly from Sydney to London in 2.5 hours.

A slight hitch is that Space Ship Two passengers have to go through three days of training, including a whirl around a centrifuge to check if they ability to handle G-force (after climbing to 50,000 feet hitched to a carrier aircraft, Space ShipTwo decouples and accelerates to the speed of sound in 10 seconds, and three times the speed of sound within 30 seconds). But perhaps frequent flyers will only have to do this once.

Right now, Sir Richard still needs to sell a few more space tickets to cover costs.

The 637 or so sold to date means around $US160 million revenue. The entrepreneur has invested around $US470 million in the venture so far.

Later this year, he could have a good bit of word-of-mouth from Kiwi travellers to gee things along.