Branson to unveil SpaceShipTwo today:
Richard Branson, the British billionaire, will unveil a craft on Monday that could soon carry tourists on a trip into space for $200,000 each.
The craft, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, will make its debut on the moonlike landscape of the Mojave desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, The Associated Press said.
SpaceShipTwo, which can carry six passengers and two pilots, is scheduled to begin test flights next year and start commercial flights in 2011 or 2012.
Virgin Galactic, owned by Mr. Branson’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments of Abu Dhabi, says about 300 people from around the world have paid a total of $40 million in deposits to guarantee spots on the carbon composite aircraft.
Aerospace experts are already bidding on suborbital flights as the next generation of business travel.
Pamela Hurley-Moser, owner of Hurley Travel Experts in Portland, Ore., is among 50 travel consultants chosen as accredited space agents for Virgin Galactic.
But space tourism, for now, remains an exclusive experience reserved for those willing to pay the hefty fee for a seat on the two-and-a-half-hour flights about 60 miles above Earth.
“First a few will go to space, but ultimately, over the next hundred years or so, spaceflight will become commonplace,” said Charles Chafer, chief executive of Space Services, a Houston company that specializes in space funerals.
In 2007, the company released into space the ashes of the actor James Doohan of “Star Trek.”
A Space Services spokeswoman, Susan Schonfeld, said the company now takes the ashes of hundreds of people at a time into space, compared with 27 people in 2007.
“Through the years, I have had the opportunity to speak to hundreds and hundreds of people from all over the world,” she said, “but 99 percent of the people are everyday people like myself that have a very deep sense of exploration I do believe is in all of us.”
The WhiteKnightTwo mothership, which has a wingspan of 140 feet, is intended to carry the smaller SpaceShipTwo 50,000 feet into the sky before it detaches and shoots up to the edge of space.
There, the tourists could experience five minutes of weightlessness in a cabin with circular windows on the sides and the ceiling.
Mr. Chafer predicted, “As humanity eventually moves to other planets and bodies throughout the solar system, we will of course fly into — and eventually live in — space.”
Hopefully I can get a photo to post later today. Look for an update.
As the space-shuttle shuts down to its last flight in 2010, some say that’s when private industry space travel will begin its literal ascent to the edge of the atmosphere (and beyond if it’s SpaceX).
Also, some say, will begin the era of human democratization of space.
Impossible you say?
As the author of this article points out, several noted intellectuals said the same things after the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk:
[…]For now, space tourists (a term the industry intensely dislikes, preferring to call them “spaceflight participants” or “space explorers”) are the cornerstone of Virgin’s business model, but with NASA struggling to fund its lofty dreams of missions to the moon and beyond, and with the shuttle headed for retirement, Virgin and dozens of other private space entrepreneurs see a golden opportunity to do something much more fundamental—and more profitable. Beyond carrying wealthy passengers into suborbital space, Whitehorn says, Virgin could also launch rockets and satellites, provide affordable transport for scientists who want to do microgravity experiments in space, and even establish a private astronaut-training program. Seen in that light, space tourists become much more than just the idle rich undertaking a mind-blowing experience for the thrill of it. Indeed, the space industry says that demand from tourists—and companies that need satellites—will provide the seed capital for what is, in effect, the privatization of space.As I walked around the ship, I got to thinking: 100 years ago, after the critics were forced to accept that yes, man can fly, many dismissed flight as a diversion for the wealthy few. “The public has greatly over-estimated the possibilities of the aeroplane, imagining that in another generation they will be able to fly over to London in a day,” wrote a Harvard University astronomy professor, William Pickering, in 1908. “This is manifestly impossible.”
I usually bash billionaires as a matter of course, generally because of their amoral behaviours.
But in this instance I’ll make an exception when I say, “God bless Elon Musk!”
And yeah, I include Branson on that too.
Update: CNN video:
More on the possible military applications of Branson’s WhightKnightTwo:
As Virgin Galactic prepares to roll out its suborbital passenger spaceship, U.S. military officials seeking low-cost, responsive access to space are studying the company’s latest exotic concept to deliver small satellites to orbit.
Peter Wegner, director of the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space program, said the private firm’s conceptual air-launched rocket design is “attractive” for potential military missions.Virgin Galactic will unveil its suborbital SpaceShipTwo spacecraft Monday in a ceremony in Mojave, Calif.
Part of the Virgin Group led by Richard Branson, the space tourism company will use SpaceShipTwo to ferry paying passengers to the edge of space more than 60 miles above Earth.
Virgin Galactic’s plans for a small satellite launcher were given a significant boost in July, when Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments took an equity stake in the company.
Aabar is investing $280 million and taking a 32 percent stake in Virgin Galactic’s holding company. Aabar may also commit up to $110 million more to fund Virgin Galactic’s satellite launch vehicle, dubbed LauncherOne.
The ORS program has so far contracted for launches with the missile-based Minotaur 1 and 4 rockets and the privately-developed Falcon 1 booster.
“The other area that we’re starting to look at from the launch aspect is the commercial entrepreneurial space industry,” Wegner said. “Virgin Galactic has announced they’re going to develop a small launch vehicle capability off the WhiteKnightTwo, and we’re very interested in that and watching what comes from that.”
The WhiteKnightTwo is the mothership for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo passenger spacecraft. Like SpaceShipTwo, the LauncherOne rocket would be fired from the WhiteKnightTwo at an altitude of about 40,000 feet.
LauncherOne reportedly would lift 110-pound satellites to orbit for less than $2 million. The first flight of the rocket is still several years away.
“They talked about launch costs for a 50-kilogram (110-pound) payload down in the single digit millions, so that’s really attractive,” Wegner said.
The ORS program is tasked with fielding small satellites to test inexpensive space technologies with on-demand capabilities for military commanders on the battlefield.
Officials hope to eventually put small satellites on call for rapid launch as needed.
Low-cost launch providers are imperative to achieve such objectives. An enhanced version of SpaceX’s Falcon 1 can haul more than 2,200 pounds to orbit for $10.5 million, according to company documents.
Launch prices for the Minotaur 1 and 4 rockets, mostly derived from stockpiled missile hardware, are not readily available.
Wegner said there are more than 100 Minotaur 1 motor stacks and parts for approximately 44 Minotaur 4 rockets.
Mini-sats are going to be the wave of the future also as more nanotechnology becomes available and cheaper.
Branson just might have a money-maker here in case the passenger carrying part of the enterprise slows down.