Virgin in space

Richard Branson and Burt Rutan are forming a new aerospace production company to build a fleet of commercial sub-orbital spaceships and launch aircraft.

Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group of Companies and Burt Rutan, the President of Scaled Composites, are forming a new aerospace production company to build a fleet of commercial sub-orbital spaceships and launch aircraft.

The new company will own the designs of the new SpaceShipTwo (SS2) and White Knight Two (WK2) launch systems that are now in development at Scaled Composites.

The SS2/WK2 system will use the ‘Care-free reentry’ and the ‘cantilevered-hybrid’ rocket motor technology developed for the Ansari X prize-winning SpaceShipOne (SS1), and will license that technology from Paul Allen’s Mojave Aerospace company.

The so-called Spaceship Company will manufacture the new launch aircraft, spaceships and support equipment.

The Spaceship Company will be jointly owned by Virgin and Scaled, and will contract Scaled for the research, development, testing and certification of SS2/WK2. Burt Rutan will head up the technical development team.

The launch customer for this new joint venture between Virgin Group and Scaled Composites will be Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s commercial space tourism venture. Virgin Galactic has placed orders for five SS2’s and two WK2’s, with options on further systems, thus securing the exclusive use of the systems for the initial 18 months of commercial passenger operations.

The Spaceship Company plans to make spaceflight affordable for the masses and to demonstrate the commercial viability of manned space exploration.