There are good news days, and bad news days. The disappointing news on Wednesday that the launch of Shuttle Discovery was flawed, leading to the grounding of the NASA Shuttle fleet, was a bad news day for everyone interested in human space flight.
Today’s announcement that Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson have partnered to form “The Spaceship Company” makes today a decidedly good news day for space flight enthusiasts. Sir Richard Branson (Founder, Virgin Group of Companies) and Burt Rutan (President, Scaled Composites) announced their signing of an agreement to form a new aerospace production company to build a fleet of commercial sub-orbital spaceships and launch aircraft.
The new company will own the designs of the new SpaceShipTwo (SS2) and White Knight Two (WK2) launch systems that are now in development at Scaled Composites. The SS2/WK2 system will use the ‘Care-free reentry’ and the ‘cantilevered-hybrid’ rocket motor technology developed for the Ansari X prize-winning SpaceShipOne (SS1), and will license that technology from Paul Allen’s Mojave Aerospace company.
The Spaceship Company will manufacture the new launch aircraft, spaceships and support equipment and market them to spaceline operators, including the launch customer, Virgin Galactic. The Spaceship Company will be jointly owned by Virgin and Scaled, and will contract Scaled for the research, development, testing and certification of SS2/WK2. Burt Rutan will head up the technical development team.
Burt Rutan commented: “I am very excited to have agreed the terms on which we can now move forward to develop the world’s-first commercial, passenger-carrying Spaceships. This will truly herald an era of personal spaceflight first described by the visionary science fiction writers of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Richard and I share a vision that commercially-viable and safe space tourism will provide the foundation for the human colonization of space. I am looking forward, (actually looking way up!) to working together with Richard on this next exciting phase.”
Sir Richard Branson added: “I couldn’t be more delighted to announce the formation of this joint venture at the biggest private aviation event in the world. Like many millions of people growing up in the Sixties who witnessed the wonder of man walking on the moon – I dreamt that one day I too would make that ‘one small step…’! Unfortunately though, over the last three decades, many people gave up hope – luckily people like Burt Rutan never did. His vision has allowed people, like me, to dream again. But even I never dreamed as boy, that one day, I would form, with Burt, the company which will build the world’s first commercial passenger spacecraft!”
In 2001, Paul Allen contracted Scaled Composites for the research and development of the SS1 system, to fulfill his vision of flying the world’s first privately-developed, reusable space vehicle. Last year on June 21st, when Mike Melvill flew SS1 above 100 km altitude, Mr Allen forever dispelled the myth that manned space flight was the sole remit of huge Government programs. Then, on September 27th, Virgin announced the launch of Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism operator and a new era in space travel was born. Virgin Galactic was a sponsor for the two successful X-prize flights completed on October 4th. SpaceShipOne, the historic, record breaking spacecraft, will be installed this fall in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Milestones of Flight Gallery in Washington D C.
The launch customer for this new joint venture between Virgin Group and Scaled Composites will be Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s commercial space tourism venture. Virgin Galactic has placed orders for five SS2’s and two WK2’s, with options on further systems, thus securing the exclusive use of the systems for the initial 18 months of commercial passenger operations.
The Spaceship Company plans to make spaceflight affordable for the masses and to demonstrate the commercial viability of manned space exploration. We are dedicated to reaching that goal with the first generation of spaceship systems developed for routine, scheduled flight operations. Those systems will be environmentally friendly and will include new solutions to optimize both safety and the passenger experience. We expect that as the flight hardware matures, and is operated by competing spaceline companies, many thousands of people will experience the wonder of leaving the earth’s atmosphere each year.
About Virgin Group:
Virgin, a leading branded venture capital organization, is one of the world’s most recognized and respected brands. Conceived in 1970 by Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Group has gone on to grow very successful businesses in sectors ranging from mobile telephony, to transportation, travel, financial services, leisure, music, holidays, publishing and retailing. Virgin has created more than 200 companies worldwide, employing approximately 35,000 people, in 29 countries. Revenues around the world in 2003 exceeded GBP 4.5 billion (US$7.9 billion).
About Virgin Galactic:
The Virgin Galactic name was first registered and trade mark protection applied for in the mid 1990s. As the world’s-first commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic will be heavily investing to setup a world-class commercial flight operation and to build the ground infrastructure required to create the best possible sub-orbital spaceflight experience for its passengers.
The Spaceship Company is now accepting reservations for the 2008 flight schedule. So, if you happen to have an extra $200,000.00 sitting around ($20,000 deposit), you now have an opportunity to trade it for a trip into space.
About Scaled Composites:
Scaled Composites was founded in 1982 and immediately became the world’s most prolific developer of new research aircraft types.
($200 grand? Hmmmm…)