Mission Virgin Galactic plans to fly 500 passengers a year at about US$200,000 to an altitude of over 100 km with a total weightless time of 7 minutes.
Only about 500 people have been off the planet and gained their astronaut wings since spaceflight began in the 1960s, and even fewer have orbited the Earth. Current commercial flights to space, provided by the Russian Space Agency, cost roughly US$20 million for a six-day orbital flight. 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 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 began in 2005, with six months of intensive testing (comprising at least 50-100 test flights) planned for 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 six passenger, two pilot craft. It will make suborbital flights lasting three hours overall, with about seven minutes of weightlessness. It is intended that passengers will be able to release themselves from their seats and float around the cabin to truly experience 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. Virgin Galactic has contracted with The Spaceship Company (owned by Virgin Group and Scaled) to build five SpaceShipTwos and two WhiteKnightTwos.
The spacecraft are to be named using the prefix VSS (Â“Virgin SpaceShipÂ”). The first craft is to be VSS Enterprise, in an acknowledged nod to Star TrekÂ’s USS Enterprise; the second, possibly named after the Star Trek craft or the spaceprobe, is expected to be named VSS Voyager.
Branson has suggested an initial ticket price of US$200,000 for a suborbital tourist flight, including a week of flight training. Following an email survey sent to a Virgin Galactic mailing-list, including the question, Â“Would you consider putting down a deposit for a ride when we are ready for you to do so?Â”, the company has stated that 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 as early as 2008. Furthermore, they believe that over a five-year period only 5,000 passengers would be needed in order to be profitable. Profits from early flights would be reinvested to make space tourism more affordable. Among those reported to have told Branson that they wished to be among the first to fly on the spacecraft are Star Trek star William Shatner, JaneÂ’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro, Alien star Sigourney Weaver, an unnamed Hollywood director, and socialite Paris Hilton. Richard Branson himself, as well as a select few of his close family members will blast off on the first commercial flight of the VSS Enterprise in 2008. 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.
On April 20, 2005, Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn told a U.S. congressional hearing that 100 people had put down $20,000 deposits for their space flights. At the 2005 Oshkosh Airshow, it was stated that Virgin Galactic had received over 4000 applications for the role of spaceship pilot. Approximately 75 pilots will be required to operate the SpaceShipTwo fleet.
General Product Information
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