Will Virgin Galactic Team Up or Go it Alone on Commercial Crew?

Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

It seems that Virgin Galactic has a decision to make about how it goes about competing in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program:

“There’s about four companies that are seriously looking at [CCDev Phase 2],” [Richard] Branson said in an interview with Aviation Week. “Two of those companies we’re in discussions with about teaming up with. … Over the next month, we’re going to make a decision as to whether to team up with one of those two companies or go it alone, but we plan to be in orbital travel within the next few years.”

NASA released the RFP for phase 2 of the program yesterday. Proposals are due in December, with the space agency planning to make multiple awards amounting to $200 million in March.

Branson made the surprising announcement at a press conference during the Spaceport America runway dedication on Friday in Upham, NM. To date, Virgin Galactic has only been involved in suborbital spaceflight.

Possible partners include Sierra Nevada Corporation, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace. Sierra Nevada is building the propulsion system for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle. Sierra Nevada is also working on an orbital shuttle named Dream Chaser with a $20 million NASA award under CCDev Phase 1.

  • “We plan to be in orbital travel within the next few years” suggests to me that Virgin Galactic is interested in becoming the operator “spaceline” for the Boeing CST-100 + Atlas V or else the SpaceX Dragon + Falcon 9.

    If a few years means 3 years, that is insufficient time for them to design, build, and test an orbital follow-on “space ship 3”.

    If space adventures is the travel agent, Virgin Galactic wants to become the airline, so that when a must less expensive Space Ship 3 is ready, they will already have paying customers lined up.

  • Stan

    I would think that a travel agent would be redundant if you’re an airline, leaving SpaceX the more likely partner.

  • SpaceX would be a possible partner.

  • Vladislaw

    Scaled composites and T/space is more likely.