A new report about Virgin Galactic has taken a look at the small print in the customer contract that Virgin Galactic will give to those who choose to fly in the most ridiculous commercial aircraft ever—and it seems that they can't promise you'll make it into space.
Even if it had the FAA permission that it requires to fly you into space—which it doesn't currently—the small print explains that Virgin will get passengers to an elevation of "at least 50 miles." That's high! Very high! But it's also some 12 miles short of the widely accepted boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space—known as the Karman Line—which lies at an altitude of 62 miles.
Indeed, Virgin claims it's using NASA's 50 mile definition—but that was used in the 1960's (Update: and in 2005!) in order to define pilots of the rocket-powered X-15 aircraft as astronauts. In contrast, these days the World Air Sports Federation, the governing body for astronautical world records, only recognises people as having travelled in space if they pass the Karman Line.
Virgin is, you'll be pleased to hear, working towards reaching those higher altitudes, according to IB Times. But for now, you can't be certain that its Galactic service will get you into space proper. [Sunday Times via IB Times]
Update: Virgin Galactic have bee in touch, and asked for us to include the following statement from George Whitesides, the CEO of Virgin Galactic.
"NASA and the US Air Force have a long tradition of celebrating everything above 50 miles (~80km) as spaceflight, and we look forward to joining those ranks soon as we push onward and upward. We are still targeting 100km. As we have always noted, we will have to prove our numerical predictions via test flights as we continue through the latter phase of the test program. Like cars, planes, and every other type of vehicle designed by humans, we expect our vehicle design and performance to evolve and improve over time.
"When SpaceShipTwo reaches space for the first time—which we expect will happen just a few short months from now—it will become one a very small number of vehicles to have ever done so, enabling us to commence services as the world's first commercial spaceline; our current timetable has Richard's flight taking place around the end of the year."