|Type||Limited liability company|
|Headquarters||Las Cruces, New Mexico, United States|
|Key people||George Whitesides (CEO)|
Virgin Galactic is a company within Richard Branson's Virgin Group which plans to provide sub-orbital spaceflights to space tourists, suborbital launches for space science missions and orbital launches of small satellites. Further in the future Virgin Galactic hopes to offer orbital human spaceflights as well. Virgin Galactic's spacecraft is launched from a large aeroplane, giving the spacecraft more initial speed and altitude than if it were launched from the ground.
The White Knight Two is a special aeroplane that functions as the mother-ship and launch-platform for the spacecraft SpaceShipTwo. The mothership is a large fixed-wing aircraft, with two hulls, linked together by a central wing.
Sir Richard Branson unveiled the rocket plane on December 7, 2009. SpaceShipTwo was presented to the world in the Mojave desert, in California. The vehicle underwent testing during the following 18 months before being allowed to take ticketed individuals on short-hop trips just above the atmosphere. Sir Richard Branson, who heads the Virgin Group, intends to run the first flights out of New Mexico before extending operations around the globe. Built from lightweight carbon composite materials and powered by a hybrid rocket motor, SS2 is based on the Ansari X PRIZE-winning SpaceShipOne concept - a rocket plane that is lifted initially by a carrier vehicle before blasting skywards. SS1 became the world's first private spaceship with a series of high-altitude flights in 2004.
Its successor is twice as large, measuring 18 m (60 ft) in length. Whereas SpaceShipOne only had a single pilot (and the ballast equivalent of two passengers), SS2 will have a crew of two and room for six passengers. More than 400 people are reported to have signed up for a flight as of early 2011. Each is paying $200,000 (£121,000) to experience approximately six minutes of weightlessness during what will be a two-hour end-to-end flight. Many of those future "astronauts" have attended the VIP unveiling at the Mojave Air and Spaceport. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson christened the spaceliner Virgin SpaceShip (VSS) Enterprise.
The New Mexico authorities are investing almost $200m (£121m) in a purpose-built facility in Sierra County, New Mexico, Spaceport America. It will have a 3,000m (10,000 ft) runway and a space-age terminal and hangar building designed by Foster and Partners. Sir Richard's Virgin Galactic enterprise will have competitors but he is almost certain to be the first to market, barring any problems arising in the test campaign. SpaceShipTwo's carrier plane is called WhiteKnightTwo. It was finished in 2008 and has already begun its own trials.
Overview of the SS2 spacecraft flights
It is planned that the SpaceshipTwo spacecraft will be robust and affordable enough to take paying passengers ($200,000 per person with a $20,000 deposit). As of May 2012[update], there are around 550 ticket-holders in line to fly with Virgin Galactic. Passengers who have already submitted their deposit include Stephen Hawking, Tom Hanks, Ashton Kutcher, Katy Perry, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The craft is expected to accommodate six passengers and two pilots. Its planned trajectory will make it a sub-orbital journey with a short period of weightlessness. SpaceShipTwo will be carried to about 16 kilometers or 52000 ft by a carrier aircraft, White Knight II. At that point, when the carrier aircraft reaches its maximum height, the SpaceShipTwo vehicle will separate and continue to over 100 km (the Kármán line, a common definition of where "space" begins). The time from liftoff of the White Knight booster carrying SpaceShipTwo until the touchdown of the spacecraft after the sub-orbital flight will be about 2.5 hours. The sub-orbital 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.
In addition to the sub-orbital passenger business, Virgin Galactic will market SpaceShipTwo for sub-orbital space science missions and market WhiteKnightTwo for "small satellite" launch services. They had planned to initiate RFPs for the satellite business in early 2010, but flights had not materialized as of 2012.
SpaceShipTwo's projected performance
SpaceShipTwo flies to a height of 110 km, going beyond the defined boundary of space (100 km) and lengthening the experience of weightlessness [for its passengers]. The spacecraft reaches a top speed of 4000 km/h, faster than current fighter jets. It has double the crew (2) and can carry three times the number of passengers (6) of its predecessor. In honour of the science fiction series Star Trek, the first two ships are named after the fictional starships Enterprise and Voyager. To re-enter the atmosphere SpaceShipTwo folds its wings up, and then returns them to their original position for an unpowered descent flight back onto the runway. The craft has a very limited cross-range capability and until other planned spaceports are built worldwide, it has to land in the area where it started. Further spaceports are planned in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere, with the intention that the spaceline will have a world-wide availability and commodity in the future.
LauncherOne is an orbital launch vehicle, publicly announced by Virgin Galactic in July 2012, designed to launch "smallsat" payloads of 100 kilograms (220 lb) into Earth orbit, with launches projected to begin in 2016. Several commercial customers have already contracted for launches, including GeoOptics, Skybox Imaging, Spaceflight Services, and Planetary Resources. Both Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada Space Systems are developing satellite buses "optimized to the design of LauncherOne." In October 2012, Virgin announced that LauncherOne could place 200 kilograms (440 lb) in Sun-synchronous orbit. Virgin plans to market the 100 kg payload delivery to low-Earth orbit for under US$10,000,000 per mission.
Virgin Galactic has been working on the LauncherOne concept since at least late 2008 and the technical specifications were first described in some detail in late 2009. The LauncherOne configuration is proposed to be an expendable two-stage liquid-fueled rocket air-launched from a WhiteKnightTwo. This would make it a similar configuration to that used by Orbital Sciences' Pegasus, or a smaller version of the StratoLaunch.
The Spaceship Company
The Spaceship Company (TSC) is a new aerospace production company, founded by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Scaled Composites, which is building a fleet of commercial spaceships and launch aircraft with the intention of making widespread space travel a reality. TSC’s initial launch customer is Virgin Galactic, which has contracted to purchase five SpaceShipTwos and two WhiteKnightTwos. To meet Virgin Galactic’s requirements, TSC has contracted Scaled Composites to develop and build prototypes of WK2 and SS2, of which TSC started full-scale production in 2008.
Virgin Galactic acquired 100% ownership of TSC in 2012 by acquiring the 30% stake still owned by Scaled Composites.
There are numerous other companies actively working on commercial passenger suborbital spaceflight.
- WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft
- Virgin MotherShips
- SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft
- Virgin SpaceShips
Test launches are planned to take place from the Mojave Spaceport, where Scaled Composites is constructing the spacecraft. Virgin Galactic expects that initial passenger flights will take place there, as well.
An international architectural competition was held for the design of Virgin Galactic's operating base, Spaceport America in New Mexico. The contract was awarded to URS and Foster + Partners architects. Upon the completion of the spaceport, flight operations will transfer from the California desert to the new bases.
Will Whitehorn stated in an interview with Space.co.uk on April 29, 2008 that the company was considering flying from a UK base: RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, during the summer months only. There are also rumors that the base could be located in RAF Machrihanish (Campbeltown, Scotland) or an unnamed location in south-west England.
In October 2010, the company held an event at Spaceport America where it ceremoniously opened the first runway. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson attended the ceremony, and SpaceShipTwo, also known as the "VSS Enterprise," was landed during the event. For the landing, the VSS Enterprise was carried underneath the fuselage of Virgin Galactics' Mother Ship Eve.
Virgin Galactic's typeface was custom designed for the venture in 2006 by Dalton Maag and GBH. It is called the "Elevon" font.
Commencement of space flights
Will Whitehorn, until recently president of Virgin Galactic, stated that the company would "not put a definite timeline on when the commercial flights would begin" but that "all was on track with its development plans" and that "If all goes to plan", the inaugural sub-orbital flight should happen "within two years [of June 2009]".
Refining the projected schedule in October 2009, Virgin Galactic has continued to decline to announce a firm schedule for commercial flights, but did reiterate that initial flights would take place from Spaceport America. Commercial availability will be based on a "safety-driven schedule," which they hope to achieve "within two years."
In 2009, Scaled Composite's president Doug Shane said that WhiteKnight Two's first SpaceShipTwo captive flights would be in early 2010. Both aircraft flew together in March 2010. On December 7, 2009, SpaceShipTwo was unveiled at the Mojave Spaceport.
By February 2012, SpaceShipTwo had completed 15 test flights while attached to WhiteKnightTwo, and an additional 16 glide tests, the last of which took place in September 2011.
The first rocket-powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo took place on April 29, 2013, when Mark Stucky, pilot, and Mike Alsbury, co-pilot, initiated an engine burn of 16 seconds duration. The brief flight began at 47,000 feet altitude, and reached a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet. During this time, SS2 went supersonic, achieving Mach 1.2. 
On May 14, 2013, Richard Branson stated on Virgin Radio Dubai's Kris Fade Morning Show that he would be aboard the first public flight of SpaceShipTwo, which is scheduled for December, 25, 2013.
Potential collaboration with NASA
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- ISPCS 2012 Conference
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- [dead link]
- Scaled Composites: Projects - FirebirdBiPodSpaceShipTwo Test SummariesWhiteKnightTwo Flight Test SummariesRocketMotorTwo Hot-Fire Test SummariesProjects - Main Landing Page Te...
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- PICTURES: WhiteKnight Two's spoilers get holes
- News – VSS Enterprise's first 'captive carry' flight! | Virgin Galactic
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- NASA Provides Additional Information on Agreement With Virgin Galactic (With MOU Text) | SpaceRef - Your Space Reference
- The Spaceship Company
- Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Mothership Makes Maiden Flight
- Virgin Galactic
- Virgin Galactic:Let the Journey Begin (Video)
- Branson And Rutan Launch New Spaceship Manufacturing Company
- U.S. Okays Virgin Galactic Spaceship Plans
- New Mexico Spaceport Bills Signed
- Lloyds Eyes Covering Virgin Spaceflights
- Virgin Galactic Rolls Out Mothership "Eve“
- An interview on www.astrotalkuk.org with Nigel Henbest who has booked and is due to fly in about 2013