The Alton Towers Galactica: A Sojourn Into Space

Posted by Sasha Bailyn on Friday, February 26th, 2016

The world’s most thrilling roller coasters always play with gravity, with the ground rushing by and falling away as the ride car twists, turns, inverts and drops. However, with Alton Towers’ new Galactica roller coaster, the solar system replaces Earth and passengers move at ultra-high speeds to dodge oncoming stars, planets and asteroids.

Galactica – which has been called a groundbreaking new coaster – is the first flying coaster fusing a physical ride with virtual reality. It’s one of a number of forthcoming VR – coaster mashups that have theme park fans and designers alike excited. Opening in the U.K. this April, Galactica is paving the way towards a new class of theme park ride technology where the passenger feels like they’re in an alternate reality.

In a ground breaking move set to revolutionise the world of theme parks, Alton Towers Resort announces today it is launching a rollercoaster entirely dedicated to virtual reality, a sensational world first.

Galactica invites riders into space. Imagine a trip into the galaxy where you’re hurtling at top speeds and dodging everything that comes your way, a la Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon. The VR coaster takes guests through space where they risk death if they crash into stars, planets or space debris.

The Flying Coaster used for the ride was designed by Bolliger and Mabbilard and was installed at Alton Towers in 2002. Previously known as Air, it is housed in the Forbidden Valley section of the park. Air runs along 2,760 feet of track at over 40 mph, with a stunning 3.5s gravitational force and two-track inversions designed for a thrilling flight. Passengers are in horizontal flying positions during the ride.

Modifications have taken the flying coaster to Version 2.0. Air has received a virtual reality boost that makes it the Galactica. Touted to be the Universe’s first spaceflight voyager, it offers a completely new and surreal experience. The Galactica experience starts as you join the queue and transport to the year 3016, where space flight is a reality. A themed queue sets the tone for the rest of the ride. According to a preview from the L.A. Times, you’re introduced to your travel agent who ‘books’ your space flight, as well as an engineer who’ll explain the science and mechanics of the journey. Following this, guests are met by an ‘Experience Officer’ who takes them through the launch. The staff you’re interacting with is from the company “Galactica Tours.” Alton Towers created a clever marketing campaign around the brand ahead of the launch.

After climbing aboard Galactica, guests are handed a pair of Samsung Gear VR Visors. The ride begins with the train passing through a ‘launch portal’ to take passengers to the rim of the solar system. During launch, passengers will experience a full 3.5Gs of gravitational force, which Alton Towers reports is close to what’s felt when astronauts launch a rocket. The Galactica visual experience was designed by Figment Productions. The ride lasts for just over two minutes and takes riders through a vast array of intergalactic landscapes.

From an entertainment design perspective, Galactica is doing several interesting things. The first is a practical and scalable application of Virtual Reality to the existing theme park context. On another level, it’s helping to reimagine what’s possible for roller coasters. Each coaster is a major investment of design, manufacture and upkeep. Even the most die-hard fans can only ride the same coaster so many times. By integrating a VR component, it’s possible to change the experience – thus increasing the repeatability and revenue potential. The idea of redesigning and redeploying old attractions may not require completely rebuilding them. Instead, it may transform the focus to creating new content that enhances the ride on the virtual level. There are some concerns to be managed around what happens in the VR headsets are damaged or lost, and whether riders will suffer from motion sickness. Time will tell how effective Galactica and similar attractions are; but we’re excited about its implications for the industry in the years ahead!

Images sourced courtesy of Alton Towers 

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