Virgin Galactic launcher delayed

We’ve covered space tourism company Virgin Galactic a lot here on Gadling. What hasn’t gotten so much discussion is LauncherOne, a rocket that would take off from the WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, the same ship that carries SpaceshipTwo. While SpaceShipTwo is a space plane that would detach from the mother ship and fly into the high atmosphere, LauncherOne is a more conventional rocket that would carry a satellite weighing up to 440 lbs into low orbit.

Originally it was supposed to start sending satellites into space a year after the space tourism business started, but now LauncherOne is in trouble. The manager of the project has left and there’s no timetable for getting the system operational. One UK satellite company has backed out of discussions about using LauncherOne.

Virgin owner Sir Richard Branson said the tourism business is still on track and will start sending tourists into the highest reaches of the atmosphere within 18 months at the price of $200,000 a pop. More than three hundred people have already signed up.

What does LauncherOne’s troubles mean for space tourism? That’s not so clear. While the LauncherOne isn’t part of Virgin Galactic’s tourism service, it makes the whole program more financially viable. Without the fees charged to satellite owners to use LauncherOne, Virgin Galactic may have to raise its prices or shove in more passengers. Will coach class come to space? Stay tuned.

[Photo courtesy Mark Greenberg and Virgin Galactic]

Space tourism one step closer with Virgin Galactic’s first manned flight

The VSS Enterprise, also known as SpaceShipTwo, has taken its first crewed flight. It stayed in the air for six hours attached to its mother ship, the VMS Eve. Two crew members stayed aboard and conducted systems tests. This is the latest aviation milestone in an active month that saw the first overnight flight by a solar airplane and the first unmanned solar plane to fly for a whole week.

This “captive carry” flight was the third for the ship. The first flight of the VSS Enterprise was only three months ago and it appears that the project is developing rapidly. Testing will continue into 2011 before commercial flights start. Tickets for the suborbital flight will be $200,000. Another space tourism company, Space Adventures, promises to offer flights for $102,000, although this won’t happen until 2012 at the earliest. While the VSS Enterprise will detach from VMS Eve and soar into suborbital space, the Space Adventures capsule will launch from a traditional rocket.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (Photos)

December 7th, 2009; there’s a good chance it won’t be remembered as a milestone in history. But it can certainly be marked as a major stepping stone in the human endeavor of space exploration.

At roughly 5.30pm on Monday evening, Richard Branson, Burt Rutan, Governor Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson proudly rolled out Virgin Galactic’s first test flight ready spacecraft. After the dramatic unveiling, the sub-orbital, eight passenger vehicle was promptly christened as the VSS Enterprise – a homage to a handful of historical vessels that have shared the same name.

The entire event was done in true Branson fashion – lights, music, and plenty of beautiful people. Over 800 press, crew and “future astronauts” were in attendance, despite high winds and occasional snow flurries at the remote Mojave Spaceport.

Full photo coverage after the break.

Governors Bill Richardson and Arnold Schwarzenegger were on site to emphasize their appreciation of Virgin Galactic’s venture; all future test flights will be performed in 2010 out of Mojave, California and the first official launches will take place at Spaceport America, in New Mexico. Governor Richardson has made a large investment in bringing this new industry to his state, and even called for President Obama to make a bigger investment in the future of space tourism.

The crowd in attendance was dominated by citizens that have already set down the full $200,000 deposit to secure their flights into space; a diverse group of enthusiasts that ranges from the wealthiest of entrepreneurs to humble schoolteachers.


After the press conference, the crowd gathered on the chilly Mojave Spaceport runway to witness the rolling out of SpaceShipTwo, carried by Virgin MotherShip Eve. The event was cut short however, due to high wind advisories in the area that threatened the lavish, inflatable domes and tent structures set up by Virgin Galactic for the event.

Critics claim that since the VSS Enterprise will only be making sub-orbital flights, humans are still a long way off from lengthy space travel. The current power that the craft is capable of will need to be scaled up to nearly 60 times before full orbital potential is possible.

Nonetheless, Virgin promises that the first flights aboard the craft will be an experience unlike any other – with full 3-day training sessions for all passengers and over 6 minutes of complete weightlessness on the flights. The development also opens up the floodgates for future progression in rapid inter-continental travel and cost efficient methods of putting satellites or heavy equipment in space.

As spacecraft designer Burt Rutan has said, “We need affordable space travel to inspire our youth, to let them know that they can experience their dreams, can set significant goals and be in a position to lead all of us to future progress in exploration, discovery and fun.”

Virgin Galactic has undoubtedly launched us into that exciting period; but while the VSS Enterprise may not be mankind’s leap into full-orbital spaceflights, it’s certainly the necessary stepping stone for space tourism and proof that private groups have the capability and support to forever change our perception of travel.

For more information about booking flights into space, you can check out Virgin Galactic’s website, or Virtuoso’s select list of Accredited Space Agents.

Virgin Galactic unveils SpaceShipTwo

It’s a rainy, stormy day at the Mojave Spaceport – but it hasn’t stopped over 800 press, crew, and future space tourists from gathering for Virgin Galactic’s unveiling of their highly anticipated SpaceShipTwo commercial spacecraft.

This evening Richard Branson, Burt Rutan, and the Virgin Galactic team will be showing off the revolutionary machine that will be sending citizens into space within the next two years. Most of the guests in attendance tonight have already paid the $200,000 ticket price to take the suborbital flight. Another 82,000 have expressed interest in taking future flights as well – a healthy sign for what some consider a risky business venture.

Gadling is on site – bringing you exclusive video and photo of the event as it unfolds, so check back for more updates from the desert to witness a small step for mankind in the making. More photos of the SpaceShipTwo model on display after the break…