Monday, December 7, 2009

Richard Branson to unveil Virgin Galactic Space Liner

Virgin Galactic readies for Monday's unveiling of SpaceShipTwo — the first-class space tourist's wonder machine at the core of the space tourism firm's suborbital fleet. Image Credit: Scaled Composites/Bill DeaverThe Virgin Galactic Space Liner, originally conceived and built by aerospace visionary Burt Rutan and financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to secure the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004, will be uveiled today at the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert.

Richard Branson to unveil Virgin Galactic Space Liner

It is fitting that with all of the unveilings of transportation craft at the LA Auto Show last week for display to the public through December 13, 2009, Richard Branson decided to unveil Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo — the first-class space tourist's wonder machine at the core of the space tourism firm's suborbital fleet.

Branson's Virgin Galactic is establishing its headquarters to operate private space flights from Spaceport America, billed as the world's first "purpose built" commercial spaceport, which is now under construction outside Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Branson, who also owns Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. and Virgin Trains, sold a 32 percent stake in Virgin Galactic to Aabar Investments PJSC of Abu Dhabi in July, raising $280 million. The purchase valued the venture at $900 million.

Virgin Galactic is unveiling the SpaceShipTwo, the company's first commercial spacecraft - and tourists are alredy lining up for out of this world vacations. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

This excerpted and edited from Bloomberg -

Branson Collects $42 Million From Would-Be Astronauts
By Steve Rothwell - Bloomberg - December 7, 2009

U.K. billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Ltd. venture is riding out the recession, with would-be astronauts paying $42 million to book a trip to the edge of space, its chief executive officer said.

Virgin Galactic added $4 million in deposits in the past nine months, CEO Will Whitehorn said in an interview. Fees range from a minimum $20,000 to the full $200,000 fare, with singer Sarah Brightman, physicist Stephen Hawking and X-Men director Bryan Singer among more than 300 clients to sign up. Virgin aims to sell at least 700 tickets by the first commercial launch.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will unveil Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo model at a test site in the Mojave Desert today, with the first commercial flight scheduled to take place from Spaceport America, New Mexico, in the next couple of years. A handful of lost contracts included one from a client who invested money through swindler Bernard Madoff, Whitehorn said.

Virgin’s prototype SpaceShipOne flew to the edge of space three times in 2004. SpaceShipTwo will be taken to 50,000 feet by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, from where it will fire its own rocket motor and climb to 360,000 feet (110 kilometers). The craft is designed to carry two pilots and six passengers who will experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the earth during a six-minute suborbital flight

Virgin Galactic has commissioned three carrier planes and five spaceships from Spaceship Co., its venture with Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Scaled Composites unit. The company was set up so that in future it can take orders from other customers.

“It’s creating a lot of interest and they must believe the technology is ready to roll,” said Professor George Fraser, director of the Space Research Centre at Leicester University, England. “But 700 bookings is only 100 flights, and I suspect this is the sort of thing people will do once and just be happy to be back on the ground safe.”

Fraser said the use of the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft as a platform from which to launch a more powerful rocket able to achieve full earth orbit might have more potential in the longer term. The technology would allow much more affordable deployment of mini satellites weighing tens of kilograms, he said.

“The main challenge, as with any new aircraft, will be to get through the tests with the regulators,” said Pat Norris, Chairman of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Space Group, by telephone. “It’s hard to tell what might go wrong.”
Reference Here>>

Virgin Galactic has spent about $200 million on the project out of a budget of $450 million.

Slideshow of unveiling here (breaking, when available)

... notes from The EDJE

No comments: