For his next big plan for the private space industry, Richard Branson
is thinking up new ways to excite affluent space tourists: flying them
into the biggest lightshow on Earth, the Aurora Borealis. Although the
New Mexico Virgin Galactic Spaceport isn’t scheduled for completion
until 2010, the British entrepreneur is already planning his next
project intended for cruises into the spectacular space phenomenon from
an Arctic launchpad.

Located in the far north of Sweden (in the Lapland province), the small
town of Kiruna has a long history of space observation and rocket
launches. The Arctic location provides the town with unrivalled views
of the Aurora Borealis as it erupts overhead. The Auroral lightshow is
generated by atmospheric reactions to impacting solar wind particles as
they channel along the Earth’s magnetic field and down into the
thickening atmospheric gases.

Once a view exclusive only to sounding rockets, this awe inspiring
sight may in the future be seen from the inside, and above, by
fee-paying space tourists as they are launched into space from a new
spaceport, on the site of an existing base called Esrange. Although
launching humans into an active aurora holds little scientific interest
(if it did, it would have probably been done by now), it does pose some
prudent health and safety questions. As Dr Olle Norberg, Esrange’s
director, confidently states: "Is there a build-up of charge on the
spacecraft? What is the radiation dose that you would receive? Those
studies came out saying it is safe to do this." Phew, that’s a relief.

Aurora Borealis, Aberdeenon, Scotland

The chance to actually be inside this magnificent display of light
will be an incredible selling point for Virgin Galactic and their
SpaceShipTwo flights. As if going into space were not enough, you can
see and fly through the atmosphere at it’s most magnificent too.

Via Universe Today