Thursday, 24 May 2012

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is a company within Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, which plans to offer sub-orbital spaceflights, and later orbital spaceflights to the paying public.
Virgin Galactic's mission is to fly passengers who are not professional astronauts to an altitude slightly over 100 kilometers (62 mi) and allow them to experience weightlessness for up to 6 minutes. Each seat will be sold for US$200,000. According to Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn, the company had sold nearly 200 seats as of November 2007. The first flight is planned for 2009.
Virgin Galactic is aiming to be the first space tourism company specializing in the provision of sub-orbital flights to the public. This is a new area. While orbital flights can be made by budding space tourists through the Russian Space Agency, there are presently no operational craft capable of sub-orbital flight aside from SpaceShipOne. However, EADS are currently working on a competing sub-orbital craft. Given that SpaceShipOne was designed for a very specific task, Virgin Galactic have commissioned Burt Rutan to design a newer, bigger and better version of his suborbital craft, called SpaceShipTwo. It is this eight seater craft, seating 2 pilots and 6 passengers, which will be used by Virgin Galactic passengers.
After talks throughout 2004, on September 24, 2004 Virgin Galactic signed a deal worth up to $21 million with Mojave Aerospace Ventures to license the patents 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 twelve to eighteen months of intensive testing (comprising at least 50-100 test flights) planned. Actual spaceflights for ordinary citizens are expected to begin on the SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise in Upham, New Mexico soon after. It is unknown whether a recent explosion which took place at Scaled Composites will affect the date of the maiden flight.
It is planned that the spacecraft are to be robust and affordable enough to take paying passengers. The craft is projected to be a six passenger, two pilot craft. It is planned to make suborbital flights, with a short period of weightlessness. The time from liftoff of the White Knight II booster carrying SpaceShipTwo until the touchdown of SpaceShipTwo after the suborbital flight will be about 2.5 hours. The suborbital 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.
SpaceShipTwo will fly a little higher than SpaceShipOne, to a height of 110 km in order to go beyond the defined boundary of space (100 km) and lengthen the experience of weightlessness. The spacecraft will reach around Mach 3 (1000 m/s), which is slightly more than current fighter jets are capable of obtaining, however the spacecraft will not be able to sustain that speed for long periods of time. The craft thus has a very limited cross-range capability and therefore has to land in the area where it started.
There are numerous other companies actively working on commercial passenger suborbital spaceflight. Virgin Galactic's most likely competitors include EADS Astrium, Rocketplane Kistler, Space Adventures, and Benson Space Company.
In addition, an international architectural competition was held for the design of the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in New Mexico. The contract was awarded to foster and partners architects.

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