Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson’s test flight to space took place last week alongside five of his Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. employees. A truly historic moment for Virgin Galactic and the space sector as a whole.
The world watched as the VSS Unity space plane detached from a carrier aircraft high over New Mexico and rocketed to a speed of Mach 3 on its way to an altitude of about 282,000 feet above the Earth. The space plane then came back down to earth and landed at 9:38 a.m. local time on Sunday — with the whole momentous journey taking only an hour.
“Welcome to the dawn of a new space age,” Branson is quoted saying in New Mexico.
And for us here on earth it truly is; this suborbital journey kicks off a landmark month for the future of space tourism, with Branson demonstrating Virgin Galactic’s capabilities nine days before Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos plans to fly on a rocket made by Blue Origin, his space venture. And of course we cannot forget Elon Musk with his company Space Exploration Technologies Corp, who is already carrying astronauts to the space station for NASA and is now planning its own space tourism flights alongside developing rockets designed to reach the moon and Mars.
This week Virgin Galactic’s test flight has shown us that these trips — once the stuff of science fiction — are becoming a possibility for those on earth. Intrigued by the possibilities presented by space tourism – we spoke with Barry Shanks of Kent-based Rocket Breaks, a space travel agency who are planning to take us all to space.
Who are you? What do you do?
We are Rocket Breaks, the UK’s first ever dedicated Space Travel agency. I am a Founder and Director along with David Doughty. I was born and bred in Kent, and have an engineering background. I moved to executive jet charter a few years ago where I met David. I’m now the general manager of Rocket Breaks and oversee the business development of the company.
What is Rocket Breaks? What is the vision? What does the company do?
Rocket Breaks is a specialist space travel agency, we are a forward thinking company used to dealing with the ultra-wealthy. We have a service over revenue approach to our customers and this will serve us well for the coming years. Early 2021 we spotted an opportunity in the marketplace for a specialist agency dedicated to space. Our aim was simply to get in early and establish ourselves as market leaders. Rockets Breaks will provide the full package. Part of this package includes having a chauffeur driver collect you at your front door, a private jet at your nearest airport ready to take you to your launch destination. With our sister company Admiral Jet, a private jet rental service, we have 18 years of experience in supplying ultra-high net worth individuals a bespoke service that is unrivalled in the attention to detail and experience offered. When it comes to travel, space is just another destination. We will offer a bespoke package based on what you are looking to get out of your experience and budget. Take sir Richard Branson – He has made history and will forever be known as Astronaut 001.
Why is space tourism important?
It’s the next step; a trip to be one of the first, a special birthday, or just a treat. More importantly it will help fund experiments, research into deep space projects and new satellites for communication advancements. Alongside using the technology to travel the other side of the earth in half the time, imagine a UK to Australia flight in under 3 hours, this is not just space travel but advancement of supersonic travel in general.
Why should we all be paying attention to Branson, Bezos and Musk?
It’s a real space race at the moment, they are pioneers of commercial space travel. I must admit I had a tear in my eye Sunday when Branson landed in New Mexico. Branson has just beaten Bezos to the title. I think Musk is looking at the bigger picture, cargo and multi passenger rockets trips to the ISS, etc. They are all known entrepreneurs worldwide and have a massive following across the world, not only admired by the public but respected business people too.
There are big companies around the world, spending billions on commercial space travel. As more companies offer space travel the need of a space travel agency will become far more important. We will specialise in making sure the guest gets the exact experience they are after and will place them with the right operator, training programs and travel providers to achieve their dream. There are several types of travel but I predict that sub-orbital will be the most popular and the focus of the majority of space flight providers.
For someone who’s looking to travel to space it’s already a minefield, our team is in place to advise on what the best option is for you ensuring you get the ultimate experience, alongside the heroes welcome you deserve on returning back to earth.
What role does the UK/and our region have to play in Space Tourism?
The UK are positioned perfectly, we have two developing space ports already in Newquay and the Shetland Isles. With vertical take-off, re-usable capsules and even something similar to a hot air balloon you can get the sub-orbital type experience at a lower cost. The UK also has some of the best space engineering, technology and infrastructure in the world.
We have come to expect ‘package holiday’ as a summer norm for a majority of families – do you see this as a possibility for space tourism in the future? And how?
In the 1920’s a holiday abroad or a trip on an ocean liner was only for the mega wealthy or royalty. Package holidays in the 60’s were still beyond the reach of the normal family. With Voyager space hotel looking to open in only 6 years time, space tourism is the next big opportunity.
The FAA wrote a report 10 years ago saying that by 2030 space tourism will be a multi billion-dollar market. If you think how far we have come in such a short time, for example in 2001 Dennis Tito paid $20 million for a trip to the ISS and now the costs of a sub-orbital trip can be as little as £250,000. Already on the waiting list are sports personalities, celebrities, business people and enthusiasts wanting to take a trip. They all want to join the special club of people who have travelled to space.
With our experience of dealing with the ultra-wealthy, our existing high net worth and celebrity client contacts, our knowledge and our unrivalled level of service will make us the market leaders in the space tourism sector.