A Holiday in Space

Who's flying high and how to be a space tourist

Virgin Galactic

  • Founded: 1999
  • Nationality: USA
  • Space flights: Suborbital, orbital
  • Flight costs: $200,000
  • First flight: expected 2012
British business tycoon and global adventurer RIchard Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2002 that he found a spaceship that could make space tourism possible for more than just the ultra-wealthy.

Virgin Galactic sponsored Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites in their bid to win the Ansari X-Prize for the first private space flight in 2004, and announced in 2005 that Scaled would build a second generation spacecraft able to take six passengers on a breathtaking ride to more than 60 miles and experience up to 15 minutes in zero-G. More than 400 passengers have already paid deposits of anything from $20 to the full price of their $200,000 tickets, and Virgin Galactic has also signed up to carry several science payloads for NASA.

SpaceShip Two will be ferried to 50,000ft by the Eve carrier aircraft from Spaceport America in New Mexico, and passengers will need just three days of training once they’ve passed medical checks. Fortunately, Virgin Galactic’s flights are intended to be far less stressful than a Soyuz launch or re-entry, and should be open to the majority of customers.

The system is currently going through a test flight programme that should see the first trip to space in 2012, with passenger flights commencing soon after. Scaled Composites will build Virgin Galactic a fleet of five spaceships and carrier aircraft, and Virgin Galactic has also signed a deal with Aabar to develop a spaceport in Abu Dhabi for sub-orbital flights, and to develop the system to launch small satellites.

Virgin Galactic also has agreements with Orbital Sciences Corp and Sierra Nevada Space to develop reusable orbital launch vehicles. Sierra Nevada Space is the owner and prime contractor for the Dream Chaser spaceplane.

All images Virgin Galactic