In-flight suborbital Internet access? Maybe not.

One of the nice things about flying on Virgin America (among some other airlines) is having access to the Internet in flight. On one of those long transcontinental flights, it’s great to make the time productive by having access to the web, email, and the like. But what if you’re making a quick trip into space? reports that Virgin Galactic is investigating the possibility of having Internet access on its suborbital flights. The system being considered, according to an unnamed source, would use X-band frequencies to provide connectivity between SpaceShipTwo and the ground. It doesn’t take much to imagine people using the system to post tweets, status updates, and the like from their brief jaunts into space.

There are, though, two problems with this proposal. One is technical. For space communications, X-band frequencies are traditionally reserved for government applications, including military satellite communications and deep space transmissions to spacecraft throughout the solar system. It’s not clear how a commercial venture would be able to use those frequencies. The other is more practical: if you’re spending $200,000 for a relatively short spaceflight, are you really going to be taking the time to post a Facebook update in-flight?

One Virgin official suggested the latter issue made it unlikely the company would develop an in-flight Internet access system. “I like Twitter as much as anyone else, but put the phone down,” advised Will Pomerantz, vice president of special projects, during a Commercial Spaceflight Forum organized by SpaceUp Houston on Thursday night. “Hopefully our passengers are not clamoring to look at their Blackberries and iPhones while in outer space.”

That approach makes some sense. Certainly there will be some data connectivity needs on these flights, both for vehicle telemetry as well as for transmitting data from any experiments carried on the vehicle, but a full-fledged Internet access system, like that on airliners, doesn’t seem necessary.

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