Monday, May 23, 2005

Virgin Galactic Announces Ambitious Plans For Space Tourism

At last Saturday's National Space Society's International Space Development Conference in Arlington, Virginia, Virgin Galactic representatives spoke about their plans to kick off the age of commercial spaceflight. With more than 30,000 individuals registering on their website interest in taking a suborbital flight, the company is selecting a group of 100 "founders" who will pay the $200k fee to be the first to go when they begin operation in 2008.

The craft that will take them there, SpaceShipTwo, will be a descendent of SpaceShipOne which pioneered the field last Fall with the successful completion of the X-Prize. While sharing the feathered tail and hybrid motor used by its predecessor, SpaceShipTwo will "not look like SpaceShipOne," according to Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic. SpaceShipTwo will fly to a peak altitude between 360k and 400k feet giving passengers about six minutes of weightlessness.

The company is planning to take about 450 people into space during 2008, roughly the same number that have flown into space since the dawn of the space age 4 decades ago. The company plans to double that number to about 1000 in 2009.

Once the operations achieves profitability, projected to be around 2013, the company will begin work on an orbital system. Prices are expected to drop to $50k for flights after 5 years and $25k after 9 years.

But to Virgin this is about more than profit, "I'm a firm believer that this will provide the foundation for the actual colonization of space," Whitehorn said. "That is really what this project is all about to us."