30 September 2010
Announcements - Vehicles (Good)
Virgin Galactic Flights Are 18 Months Away
But there's a catch
by G B Leatherwood
As reported here a few days ago, Russia has announced its plans adding another Soyuz craft to its fleet dedicated to and taking two paying passengers along with a professional astronaut pilot as early as 2013.

Now Sir Richard Branson has announced that his own space company, Virgin Galactic, will be lifting six paying passengers in his SpaceShipTwo. And if all goes according to plan, it will happen within eighteen months, or in the vicinity of late 2012.

In a statement to a business conference in Kuala Lumpur, Branson said “We just finished building SpaceShipTwo. We are 18 months away from taking people into space.” He added that the fare will be around $200,000, or about one-tenth the current price of a trip to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz, not to mention the six months of preparation for one of those flights.

Of course, there's a catch: SpaceShipTwo will initially be limited to suborbital altitudes. But the ever-entrepreneurial Branson also has visions of orbiting hotels and trips around the moon.

Virgin Galactic intends to be the world’s first commercial company to promote space tourism, a claim likely to be contested by the US company Space Adventures, which has brokered the seven civilian trips to the ISS so far. However, Virgin Galactic has been aggressively commissioning private travel agencies to sell its tickets, among which is Park Avenue Travel, whose web site gives a thrilling description of what is involved, what it will be like, and how to sign up.

Two ventures—so far. Two passengers at a time to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz vehicle by 2013; six at a time to suborbital range on SpaceShipTwo, within in 18 months.

As the saying goes, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
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G B Leatherwood 30 September 2010
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