Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic






New Mexico, USA

Key people

Richard Branson(UK)
Will Whitehorn


space tourism


space tourism


Virgin Group




Space is Virgin territory


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Virgin Galactic is a company within Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which plans to offer sub-orbital spaceflights and later orbital spaceflights to the paying public.


Virgin Galactic’s mission is to fly passengers who are not professional astronauts to an altitude slightly over 100 kilometers (62 mi) and allow them to experience weightlessness for up to 6 minutes. Each seat will be sold for US$200,000. According to Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn, the company had sold nearly 200 seats as of November 2007. The first flight is planned for 2009.

Virgin Galactic is aiming to be the first space tourism company specializing in the provision of sub-orbital flights to the public. While orbital flights can be made by budding space tourists through the Russian Space Agency, there are presently no operational craft capable of sub-orbital flight aside from SpaceShipOne. However, EADS are currently working on a competing sub-orbital craft. Given that SpaceShipOne was designed for a very specific task, Virgin Galactic have commissioned Burt Rutan to design a newer, bigger and better version of his suborbital craft, called SpaceShipTwo. It is this eight seater craft, seating 2 pilots and 6 passengers, which will be used by Virgin Galactic passengers.


Development of SpaceShipTwo

After talks throughout 2004, on September 24, 2004 Virgin Galactic signed a deal worth up to US$21 million with Mojave Aerospace Ventures to license the patents behind the Tier One project for purposes of space tourism. The deal was announced by Branson and Burt Rutan on September 27, 2004 at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London. The initial plan is for Rutan to design and build five suborbital tourist craft based on a scaled-up version of SpaceShipOne. Construction began in 2005, with twelve to eighteen months of intensive testing (comprising at least 50-100 test flights) planned. Actual spaceflights for ordinary citizens are expected to begin on the SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise in Upham, New Mexico soon after. It is unknown whether a recent explosion which took place at Scaled Composites will affect the date of the maiden flight. Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites presented their SpaceShip Two on January 23, 2008. The required 50 test flights are scheduled to begin in June of 2008.

SpaceShipOne, the first private space tourism spaceship to fly above the 100-km Kármán lineSpaceShipOne, the first private space tourism spaceship to fly above the 100-km Kármán line

General overview of the spacecraft flights

It is planned that the spacecraft are to be robust and affordable enough to take paying passengers. The craft is projected to be a six passenger, two pilot craft. It is planned to make suborbital flights, with a short period of weightlessness. Around 16 kilometers or 52,000 ft the rocket will seprate which causes the plane to reach its maxium height. The time from liftoff of the White Knight II booster carrying SpaceShipTwo until the touchdown of SpaceShipTwo after the suborbital flight will be about 2.5 hours. The suborbital flight itself will only be a small fraction of that time. The weightlessness will last approximately 6 minutes. Passengers will be able to release themselves from their seats during these 6 minutes and float around the cabin.

SpaceShipTwo’s performance

SpaceShipTwo will fly a little higher than SpaceShipOne, to a height of 110 km in order to go beyond the defined boundary of space (100 km) and lengthen the experience of weightlessness. The spacecraft will reach around Mach 3 (1000 m/s), which is slightly faster than current fighter jets are capable of attaining, however the spacecraft will not be able to sustain that speed for long periods of time. To re-enter the atmosphere SpaceShipTwo folds its wings up, and then returns them to their original position for a smooth and gentle glide back onto the runway. The craft has a very limited cross-range capability and therefore has to land in the area where it started.


They already have $30 million in bookings for flights. Although the initial deposit is set to be $200,000 for the first 100 to fly, the next 400 will pay a deposit between $100,000 and $175,000; all passengers after that will pay a deposit of only $20,000 each.

Among those reported to have told Branson that they wished to be among the first to fly on the spacecraft are actor William Shatner, designer Philippe Starck, The Panic Channel guitarist Dave Navarro, Alien star Sigourney Weaver, Hollywood director Bryan Singer, Musician Moby, socialite Paris Hilton, and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (who on January 8, 2007 announced plans to take a sub-orbital flight in 2009). Also, Richard Branson himself and some of his family members will be launched on the VSS Enterprise’s first commercial flight in 2009, before everyone else. In 2006, Richard Branson offered actor William Shatner a free ride on the inaugural space launch in 2008, saving Shatner $200,000; however, Shatner turned it down, and said, "I do want to go up but I need guarantees I’ll definitely come back". In addition, other celebrities such as Patrick Stewart have expressed serious doubts about flying into space. In March 2005, Doug Ramsberg, a native of Northglenn, Colorado, won a free trip to suborbital space aboard Virgin Galactic, from a Volvo sweepstakes sponsored by Virgin. In September 2006, Alan Watts, a British businessman, indicated that he was able to redeem 2,000,000 frequent flyer miles for a ticket aboard a 2009 Virgin Galactic space flight.


There are numerous other companies actively working on commercial passenger suborbital spaceflight. Virgin Galactic’s most likely competitors include EADS Astrium, Rocketplane Limited, Inc., Space Adventures, and Benson Space Company.

In addition, an international architectural competition was held for the design of the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in New Mexico. The contract was awarded to Foster + Partners architects.

Virgin Galactic fleet

Virgin Galactic is planning to have a fleet of two White Knight Two motherships and five or more SpaceShipTwo tourist suborbital spaceplanes.

White Knight Two carrier aircraft
  1. Eve
  2. unnamed
SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft
  1. VSS Enterprise
  2. VSS Spirit of Steve Fossett (formerly VSS Voyager)
  3. unnamed
  4. unnamed
  5. unnamed


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External links