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!

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