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Following the successful flight of Scaled Deposits' SpaceShipOne in 2004, Sir Richard Branson purchased the design for his Virgin Group. Virgin Galactic was launched shortly afterward, in an effort to bring space travel to the public. Despite setbacks on scheduling and the death of three employees in 2007, the company is pushing forward with its plans, debuting SpaceShipTwo to the public in December 2009.
Left: SpaceShipOne. (Rokits XPrize gallery from Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/46/Spaceship_One_in_flight_1.jpg)
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Safety and Other Features
While the public is excited to watch and take part in the first private spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic places a strong emphasis on safety and environmental considerations of its flight vehicles. Since the X-Prize was first won with SpaceShipOne, the vehicle has been retired, and a new model has been designed. SpaceShipTwo features an all-carbon design and uses a benign fuel with very little environmental impact. It also implements a large interior that allows passengers to freely float in zero gravity and view the Earth and space from large panoramic windows.
Right: White Knight II. (Akradecki at Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0; GNU Free Documentation License; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b2/Vg-wk2-080728_(148)_cr8.jpg)
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Advertising and Ticket Sales
Over the past few years, Sir Richard Branson has personally taken a great interest in promoting Virgin Galactic's space program and the company's image in general. In addition to recording promotional videos for the media and the website, he has advertised his own training regimen, showing the challenges of the centrifuge and other preparation programs.
Tickets are currently available for $200,000 with a deposit of $20,000. As part of the promotional campaign, a number of the customers have been invited to elaborate parties in New York, Los Angeles and the Caribbean.
Virgin Galactic has also taken the opportunity, with the attention it is currently receiving, to sponsor a Formula One race car.
Above left: VMS Eve. (Akradecki at Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0; GNU Free Documentation License; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/ff/Vg-wk2-080728_(153)_cr8.jpg)
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Vehicles and Facilities
While other companies are designing rival concepts, the Virgin Galactic designs are modern and take advantage of the laws of physics. The spacecraft is actually comprised of two pieces. There is a mother ship called WhiteKnightTwo that takes off from the ground and achieves high altitude flight. SpaceShipTwo then detaches from the carrier and flies into suborbital status. This has the distinct advantages of a secure takeoff that can be scrubbed at any time, if there is a dangerous problem.
Once SpaceShipTwo leaves orbit, it has a feathered re-entry system that is safe and secure. Regardless of the direction of re-entry, the ship will essentially right itself and allow the pilot to safely glide it down to a landing.
Virgin Galactic, since 2005, has implemented an elaborate infrastructure. The Virgin Galactic spaceport in New Mexico, Spaceport America, was constructed as a complete facility that features construction, testing and training departments.
Two suborbital spacecraft have been constructed as of 2009, VSS Enterprise and VSS Voyager. These are matched with two carrier aircraft, VMS Eve and VMS Spirit of Steve Foster. Test flights are conducted on a weekly basis and the first tourist flights are expected to occur as soon as late 2010.
Above right: Spaceport America. (SVTCobra at Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.5; GNU Free Documentation License; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Mojave_spaceport.jpg)
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Virgin Galactic (http://www.virgingalactic.com/)
"Virgin Galactic Unveils First Tourist Spaceship" National Geographic (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/12/091208-virgin-galactic-spaceship-enterprise-branson.html)
Virgin Galactic - Richard Branson Launches SpaceShipTwo
Space tourism is a burgeoning industry spurred by the onset of new funds and a focus on the glory of space travel. After the completion of the X-Prize, Richard Branson leads the pack of entrepreneurs with his Virgin Galactic company, dedicated to bringing space flight to the masses.