Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Since spaceflight began in the 1960s, only 500 people have been off the planet and gained their astronaut wings. Current commercial flights to space, provided by the Russian Space Agency, cost roughly US$20 million for a six day orbital flight. Virgin Galactic plans to put that same number in space inside a single year at a hundredth of that cost, albeit at sub-orbital altitudes with a total weightless time of only 7 minutes.
After talks throughout 2004, on September 25 2004 Virgin Galactic signed a deal worth up to US$21 million with Mojave Aerospace Ventures to license the intellectual property 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 is to begin in 2005, with six months of intensive testing in 2007.
It is planned that the spacecraft are to be robust and affordable enough to take paying passengers. Initially planned to be a piloted craft accommodating five passengers, it is now projected to be a nine passenger craft. It will make suborbital flights lasting three hours overall, with about seven minutes of weightlessness. It will fly a little higher than SpaceShipOne in order to make the experience longer and even more impressive. SpaceShipTwo is the name of the prototype of the Virgin craft.
The spacecraft are to be named using the prefix VSS ("Virgin SpaceShip"). The first craft is to be the VSS Enterprise, in an acknowledged nod to Star Trek's USS Enterprise; the second, also named after a Star Trek craft, is expected to be named the VSS Voyager.
Branson has suggested an initial ticket price of approximately £115,000 (US$210,000) for a suborbital tourist flight, including a week of flight training. At this price they estimate a market of 7,000 potential passengers (a claim disputed by some), to fly over a five-year period starting 2007-2008. Profits from early flights would be reinvested to make space tourism more affordable. Among those who told Branson that they wished to be among the first to fly on the spacecraft included Star Trek star William Shatner, Jane's Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro, Alien star Sigourney Weaver and an unnamed Hollywood director. Richard Branson himself, as well as a select few of his close family members will blast off on the first flight of the VSS Enterprise in 2008. In March 2005, Doug Ramsberg, a native of North Glenn, Colorado, won a free trip to suborbital space aboard Virgin Galactic, from a Volvo sweepstakes sponsored by Virgin.
Ultimately, Branson also aims to use this investment to develop orbital space tourism and even proposes putting a hotel in space. At the end of a video available on their web site, they put up the question "What Next?", and show computer-generated shots of a Virgin Galactic craft docked at an orbital space station.
- Official web site
- Scaled Composites
- Ansari XPRIZE foundation
- CNN.com article "Now Virgin to offer trips to space"
- The Register article "Virgin to offer space flights"
- BBC News article "Virgin boss in space tourism bid"
- BBC News article "Virgin Galactic: The logical next step"
- CNN.com article "Shatner aims for real 'Star Trek'
- The Economist article "One small step for space tourism..."
- BBC News article "Virgin soars towards new frontier"
- Screen captures from promotional video
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