Virgin Galactic to operate space flights from 2007
Posted on 27-Sep-2004 22:11
Filed under: News
Sir Richard Branson has announced that his Virgin Group has entered into an agreement to license the technology to develop the world's first privately funded spaceships dedicated to carrying commercial passengers on space flights. The technology is currently owned by a Paul Allen company called Mojave Aerospace Ventures and was originally developed to fulfil Paul Allen's vision of building the world's first privately funded, reusable space vehicle ('SpaceShipOne'), which will undertake its first Ansari X Prize flight later this week. The licensing deal with M.A.V. could be worth up to GBP 14 million (US$21.5 million) over the next fifteen years depending on the number of spaceships built by Virgin.
SpaceShipOne, which is solely funded by Paul G. Allen, was designed by aviation legend Burt Rutan and built by his company, Scaled Composites. On June 21st Mike Melvill piloted this unique craft to a height of 100 km (62 miles) and into the history books and record books as the world's first private manned space flight. Separately to Virgin's agreement with M.A.V., the company has also signed a Letter of Intent to agree contract terms with Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites, to utilise the technology in building new spaceships and derivatives thereof, for the purposes of carrying paying passengers on a journey to the stars -- returning to earth as astronauts two hours later.
Virgin has formed Virgin Galactic ('V.G.') a new company, which will become the world's first commercial space tourism operator. It is envisaged that Virgin Galactic will open for business by the beginning of 2005 and subject to the necessary safety and regulatory approvals begin operating flights from 2007. The name was first registered and trade mark protection applied for in the mid 1990s. It is expected that around GBP 60 million ($100 million) will be invested in developing the new generation of spaceships and ground infrastructure required to operate a sub orbital space tourism experience. Over five years Virgin expects to create around 3000 astronauts and the price per seat on each flight, which will include at least three days of pre-flight training, are expected to start at around GBP 115,000 ($190,000). Virgin will reinvest the proceeds in developing a new generation of vehicles for further space ventures. To date the cheapest space tourism experiences in government built and taxpayer funded spaceships cost over $15,000,000 per seat.
It is expected that Virgin Galactic will formally commence the contractual and design phase of the project after the conclusion of the Ansari X Prize flights and start construction of the first spaceship, the 'VSS ENTERPRISE' in 2005.