Virgin Galactic (LLC), founded by Sir Richard Branson, has announced that it will support the work of Sierra Nevada Space Systems (SNC) and Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) on commercial space vehicles. This development could allow passengers — as well as professional scientists and crew astronauts — to experience orbital flight at costs lower than the tens of millions the previous seven space tourists have paid.
VG developed the SpaceShipTwo sub-orbital space program to create new markets and products to help transform the safety, cost and environmental impact of visiting outer space. Progress in commercial orbital service for fare-paying passengers is continuing with the second phase of NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDEV2). Designed to stimulate development of privately-operated crew vehicles to low Earth orbit, the program encourages reusable technologies and designs to improve safety, cost and passenger experience.
SNC and OSC are both studying vehicle designs under CCDEV2 that feature reusable lifting-wing bodies and runway landings. VG believes that these could reform flace flight in the same way SpaceShipTwo has changed sub-orbital space flight. Contributing to the companies' submissions to NASA, VG has recommended the marketing of seats on these vehicles to the public and to its customer base, which now numbers 400 who have made deposits of more than $54 million. VG will also pursue providing its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, to SNC and OSC during their test flight programs.
“Virgin Galactic has shown in the past few years how private sector investment and innovation can lead to a rapid transformation of stagnant technologies," Branson said. "We are now very close to making the dream of sub-orbital space a reality for thousands of people at a cost and level of safety unimaginable even in the recent past. We know that many of those same people, including myself, would also love to take an orbital space trip in the future, so we are putting our weight behind new technologies that could deliver that safely whilst driving down the enormous current costs of manned orbital flight by millions of dollars."