Virgin Galactic

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Virgin Galactic is a company that offers sub-orbital space flights for tourists and space science missions. It also markets WhiteKnightTwo for small satellite orbital launches. Virgin Galactic will own and operate its privately built spaceships.
Virgin Galactic Enterprise Picture.Virgin Galactic Enterprise

About Virgin Galactic Spaceflights

The flights will climb to about 130km, roughly 10 times higher than regular commercial planes and include four minutes of weightlessness, views of the horizon 1,200 miles away and possibly a gin and tonic, if granted a liquor license.

Virgin Galactic plans to fly 500 passengers a year at about US$200,000 each, to an altitude of over 100 km, with a total weightless time of 7 minutes. Sir Richard Branson said he planned to take the inaugural flight on the VSS Enterprise.

Only about 500 people have been off the planet and gained their astronaut wings since spaceflight began in the 1960s and even fewer have orbited the Earth. Current commercial flights to space, provided by the Russian Space Agency, cost roughly US$20 million for a six-day orbital flight.


Fleet

Virgin Galactic plans to have a five SpaceShipTwo tourist suborbital vehicles and two White Knight Two motherships.

SpaceShipTwo SpaceShips:

1. VSS Enterprise – First manned flight on 10 October 2010. Crashed 31 October 2014
2. VSS Unity
3. VSS Voyager ?
4. No Name Yet
5. No Name Yet

WhiteKnightTwo MotherShips (carrier aircraft)

1. VMS Eve
2. VMS Spirit of Steve Fossett


First Flight

Richard Branson will be taking his adult children Sam and Holly on the first space flight which is scheduled for 2013.

Bookings

Branson has suggested an initial ticket price of US$200,000 for a suborbital tourist flight, including a week of flight training. Profits from early flights would be reinvested to make space tourism more affordable.

Among those reported to have told Branson that they wished to be among the first to fly on the spacecraft are Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, Alien star Sigourney Weaver, Hollywood director Bryan Singer, Musician Moby, and Paris Hilton. Richard Branson himself, as well as a select few of his close family members will blast off on the first commercial flight of the VSS Enterprise in 2013.

Cost

Virgin Galactic plans to offer sub-orbital space flights by 2013, with fares expected to cost 162,000 Euros (2004) per seat.


Spaceports

On December 13, 2005, Branson announced that Virgin Galactic would undertake a joint venture with the New Mexico state government to construct Spaceport America, a $225 million facility to be located near Upham, New Mexico. The venture was approved by the state legislature and the funding plans signed into law by governor Bill Richardson on March 1, 2006. Virgin Galactic will be the first customer to operate manned spacecraft from this facility.

The current and only spaceport is at Mojave, California. Flights internationally land at John Wayne International Airport (Orange County Airport) at Santa Ana/Irvine, CA and are taken to Mojave. Virgin announced is also considering launches from Scotland and northern Sweden from Kiruna, the latter being particularly suitable for in-flight views of the aurora borealis. Branson has also said that Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center could serve as an East Coast spaceport.


History

Virgin Galactic is an offshoot of Sir Richard Branson’s business empire.

Virgin first formed the company and registered their trademark in space tourism back in the mid 1990’s. We were looking at a number of projects then underway to further the concept of space tourism, however we rejected all of them.

Sir Richard’s Virgin Group licensed technology owned by Paul Allen’s company, called Mojave Aerospace Ventures, which developed the world’s first private manned spaceship, SpaceShipOne. SpaceShipOne became the first private manned spaceship in June 2004 when pilot Mike Melvill took it up 100km and won the $10m Ansari X Prize. This major milestone achievement paved the way for Virgin Galactic to launch sub-orbital space tourism business.

29th September 2004

The first pair of Virgin Galactic astronaut wings were awarded today by Alex Tai of Virgin Galactic to Mike Melvill after he returned from 330,000 feet having just successfully completed the first of two Ansari X-Prize qualifying flights.

27th September 2004

Richard Branson and Burt Rutan announced to the world’s media on September 27 2004 at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London that Virgin Galactic was now in a position to commence a programme of work that would result in the world’s first affordable space tourist flights in 2 to 3 years time. The initial plan was for Rutan to design and build five suborbital tourist craft based on a scaled-up version of SpaceShipOne. Construction began in 2005.

4th October 2004

A new astronaut was created today and at the same time he created history.

Brian Binnie piloted Paul Allen’s SpaceShipOne on its third trip into space and its second Ansari X Prize qualifying flight. The flight was successful, which meant that Mojave Aerospace Ventures were able to claim the $10m prize. Something that many thought an impossible dream when the competition was announced 8 years earlier.

September 28, 2006

The full-size model of the interior of SpaceShipTwo was revealed during a technology show in New York on September 28, 2006. The spaceship will hold six passengers and two pilots. The mock-up featured a spacious cabin with reclining seats and large portholes.

Virgin Galactic added an e-commerce platform to its Web site to coincide with the unveiling of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle at Wired Magazine’s NextFest at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on October 2nd, 2006.

2012

At the Farnborough Air Show (July 2012), Branson announced that he and his son Sam and daughter Holly hope to make the trip on the SpaceShipTwo by the end of 2013.

Virgin Galactic also announced new launch vehicle called LauncherOne. The company will partner with Planetary Resources in the small satellite market. LauncherOne is expected to begin operations in 2016 and can carry up to 227 kilos (500 pounds) of weight.

Virgin Galactic announced in December 2015 that the LauncherOne carrier plane changed to a Boeing 747 in order to carry heavier payloads.


Future Plans – Space Hotel

Branson has plans for orbital space tourism and proposes putting a hotel in space. It is expected that some of the future spacecraft will be able to dock with a space hotel.

Competition

There are numerous other companies actively working on commercial passenger suborbital spaceflight (see: Private spaceflight). Virgin Galactic’s most likely competitors include Rocketplane Kistler, Space Adventures, Excalibur Almaz and Benson Space Company.


Did you know?

* Trivia
In the 2006 movie Superman Returns, during the maiden flight of a new fictional commercial Space Shuttle the Virgin Galactic brand can be seen in the inflight presentation. One of the shuttle pilots is portrayed by Sir Richard Branson himself. The movie’s director, Bryan Singer, is amongst those reported to want to fly on the real Virgin Galactic maiden flight.

* Virgin has a long history of working with Burt Rutan, including a round the world balloon flight in the 1990’s and Steve Fossett’s Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer.

* Who is Richard Branson?
Richard Branson is a famous Entrepreneur whose business empire ranges from planes (Virgin Atlantic) and trains (tilting Virgin Pendolino trains) to vodka, music and personal finance to zero-gravity flights. His business empire started in mail-order recorded music in the 1970’s.


Related:

Planets Book

Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low Cost innovation in the US Space Program.


Virgin Galactic Links:

Virgin Galactic: Official website


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