October 09 2008 / by Mielle Sullivan
Category: Environment Year: 2008 Rating: 8 Hot
I wrote about the unveiling of White Knight Two back in July, and no, it is not yet ferrying billionaires to sub-orbital six minute vacations. But it has just become useful (rather than enviable) to the rest of us.
On September 30th, The International Astronautical Congress announced that Virgin Galactic was partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to measure greenhouse gasses in the upper atmosphere using White Night Two and Space Ship Two. Both crafts will be fitted with atmospheric sensors and will begin gathering data in test flights.
The planes are uniquely suited to help the NOAA for two reasons. The most obvious is that they will go much higher than conventional aircraft. Thus, they can monitor the hard to reach mesosphere and thermosphere. Information about these layers of the atmosphere is vital for scientist to create accurate climate change models. Also, the planes were designed with tubes that channel outside air to internal speed sensors. This feature was added in the design phase in anticipation of scientific work.
Scientific research was always a part of the Virgin Galactic plan. The NOAA will be the first to use the fleet to this end, and it will do it at no charge. Virgin CEO Richard Branson says
“there is no greater or more immediate challenge than that posed by climate change.”
Passenger flights are scheduled for early 2010. With testing, by this time next year we could have a better, more complete climate-change models thanks to information from White Knight Two and Space Ship Two. That’s worth a whole lot more than a few minutes of weightlessness and proves space tourism and pace exploration in general can provide us with priceless knowledge about our planet and our universe.