Virgin Galactic Aims for Orbit

This news made the rounds in several news outlets and frankly, when isn’t Virgin Galactic in the news? They’ve barely conquered sub-orbital flights and they’re already planning to go orbital.

From Gadling:

Today, Virgin Galactic officially announced plans to team up with two U.S companies in pursuit of developing a commercial manned orbital spacecraft.

Backed by fearless entrepreneur Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic has chosen to support Sierra Nevada Space Systems (SNC) and Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDEV2); an initiative designed to stimulate the development of privately-operated space vehicles. This falls in line with the comments Branson made in our exclusive interview at Spaceport America, saying that NASA’s role should transition to apportioning out money to private space companies.

Since it’s conception in 2004, Virgin Galactic has primarily worked alongside Mojave-based company Scaled Composites to develop a reusable sub-orbital craft, dubbed “SpaceShipTwo”. This design will take passengers over 62 miles into space, but lacks the power required to completely escape the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in about 5 minutes of weightlessness. Orbital flights would give passengers a much longer weightless experience and views of the entire surface of the Earth.

SNC and OSC are following Scaled’s lead by researching designs that will utilize lifting-wing bodies and runway landings in an effort to minimize cost and maximize passenger safety.

Source.

Spaceflight Now had some more details on what Virgin Galactic and their partners are planning:

Already cornering the market for brief up-and-down joyrides for space tourists, Virgin Galactic announced Thursday it has an agreement to sell seats on two lifting body spaceships proposed under NASA’s commercial crew development initiative.

Both spacecraft are being designed to rotate government astronauts to and from the International Space Station, but they could serve other markets in low Earth orbit.

Virgin Galactic, founded by wealthy businessman Richard Branson, is supporting spacecraft proposals by Orbital Sciences Corp. and Sierra Nevada Corp., the company said Thursday in a press release.

Both companies are vying for NASA funding under the second round of the Commercial Crew Development program, or CCDev 2.

Orbital and Sierra Nevada are designing separate lifting body space planes designed to take off on top of an Atlas 5 rocket, conduct a mission in orbit, then return to Earth for a runway landing like the space shuttle.

Source.

This is all very exciting news and we’ll be watching this closely!

Report: Virgin Galactic Space Planes Could Replace Space Shuttle

This story comes via Fox News. The article talks about how Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic are already planning to develop orbital capabilities for a craft similar to Space Ship Two.

From the article:

While Virgin Galactic’s public sights are set on offering suborbital space tourist treks on its SpaceShipTwo passenger ships, the company is already quietly eyeing the next step: orbital space travel.

Virgin Galactic founder and president Sir Richard Branson publicly admitted the company’s orbital aims last month at the dedication of the Spaceport America facility under construction in New Mexico. But he and other Virgin execs are keeping mum on the details.

“Obviously, we want to move on to orbital after we’ve got suborbital under our belts, and maybe even before that,” Branson said.

In the last few weeks, Virgin Galactic and the Mojave, Calif.-based aerospace company Scaled Composites have flown several solo glide tests of SpaceShipTwo, most recently on Nov. 17, setting the stage for the first rocket-powered launch trials to follow. Scaled Composites built the first SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic, as well as the spaceliner’s prize-winning predecessor SpaceShipOne.

But how Virgin Galactic plans to take the major step of reaching orbit — and when it plans to do so — remain to be seen.

It goes on to talk about the challenges they’ll face progressing from sub-orbital flights to full on orbital flights. Read the rest of this interesting article here.

Astronaut Takes Us on a Tour of his Crew Quarters on the ISS

It’s kind of like MTV Cribs in space. Astronaut Scott Kelly takes us on a tour of his personal cabin on the ISS. It’s pretty cool – never seen it before. It’s quite cozy!

CNN Visits Spaceport America

CNN’s John Zarella has the pleasure of visiting the under construction Spaceport America in New Mexico. Here’s his report:

VSS Enterprise Lands at Spaceport America for Runway Dedication

The Spaceport terminal itself is still under construction – but it’s going up impressively fast and is going to look amazing. The runway itself has been completed and was dedicated, to much PR applause.

Here’s some video marking the occasion. The first from Gadling – which is well put together and another from Virgain Galactic.

Very exciting times and stayed tuned to Astrotopia for the latest news on Virgin Galactic and other private space operations.

Video: Virgin Galactic Test Flight Video Released

Virgin Galactic recently did a test flight for it’s upcoming space passenger ship. The test was a release from the White Knight 2 craft and an unpowered glide to landing. Pretty amazing stuff. It’s the first step in the testing they need to do to begin ferrying passengers to and from space within the next year or so.

Click to view larger size.

Crazy British Company Wants to Launch People Into Space

I think these people are rather nuts. But hey, I could be wrong. We’ll see.

Virgin Galactic Has Launch Test Today

According to Richard Branson’s Twitter account, Virgin Galactic did a test launch of the SpaceShipTwo vessel today.

It was released from the WhiteKnight mothership and glided safely to the ground.

Here’s a picture:

Virgin Galactic plans to begin civilian launches to Space within the next 18 months.