Virgin Galactic Extends Space Ambitions into Orbit

Orbital Sciences Corporation's blended lifting body vehicle. (Credit: OSC)


Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, LLC (VG), the world’s first commercial spaceline, today announced that it will be supporting Sierra Nevada Space Systems’ (SNC) and Orbital Sciences Corporation’s (OSC) work on commercial space vehicles.

For the first time it will give not only professional scientists and other crew astronauts but also fare-paying passengers the chance to experience safe orbital space flight at lower costs.

VG has long stated its ambition to use the success and experience gained through its groundbreaking SpaceShipTwo sub-orbital space program to develop new markets and products with the aim of transforming the safety, cost and environmental impact of access to space.

With this in mind, it has watched the growth of the commercial manned orbital field closely. The second phase of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDEV2), designed to stimulate development of privately-operated crew vehicles to low Earth orbit, presents an opportunity for VG to start to map a path towards a commercial orbital service for fare-paying passengers by encouraging reusable technologies and designs which can offer important advantages to safety, cost and passenger experience.

Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser - a seven-person space shuttle designed for orbital flight.
Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser shuttle.

Both SNC and OSC are pursuing vehicle designs under CCDEV2 featuring reusable lifting-wing bodies and runway landings, which VG believes could revolutionize orbital space flight in much the same way that SpaceShipTwo has revolutionized sub-orbital space flight.

As a contributor to SNC’s and OSC’s submissions to NASA, VG is proposing to market seats on these vehicles to the public and to its existing customer base, which now numbers more than 400 people who have made deposits of over $54 million. VG will also investigate providing its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, to SNC and OSC during their test flight programs.

Commenting on the announcement, Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic said:

“Virgin Galactic has shown in the past few years how private sector investment and innovation can lead to a rapid transformation of stagnant technologies. 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. Today’s announcement is an important step along the way to achieving our ultimate and long term goal of leading an industry which opens up the huge potential of space to everyone, whether it be for the experience itself, for science research, for fast and efficient transportation around the globe or for delivering payloads to space safely, cleanly and cheaply. We very much look forward to working with SNC, OSC and other partners in the future to bring this ambition to fruition.”

Mark N. Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President and head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems added, “We are thrilled to have Virgin Galactic as part of our effort to make commercial orbital transportation a reality. The knowledge gained by Virgin in the development and promotion of the history making SpaceShipTwo suborbital system will add considerably to our program. We are proud to be the prime rocket motor provider to SpaceShipTwo and to have Virgin Galactic joining a growing group of world-class space companies who form our Dream Chaser team. Their participation will truly enhance our efforts.”

Mr. Frank Culbertson, Orbital Science’s Senior Vice President and former NASA astronaut stated: Virgin Galactic is clearly breaking new ground in the commercial space market, and we are now very excited to have them on our team. This partnership for marketing and supporting our innovative and affordable design carries a great deal of promise for achieving the kind of growth in commercial spaceflight that will help to make this a sustainable market in the future.”