Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides was interviewed on the TMRO Space show on Saturday. The interview begins at 20:54 in the above video.
Below are the highlights of the interview.
Whitesides was asked whether SpaceShipTwo could fly above the Karman line at 100 km (62.1 miles), which is the internationally recognized boundary of space. He didn’t provide a yes or no answer.
Whitesides saidthat in the United States anyone who gets 50 miles (80.5 km) is considered an astronaut, based on the standards used by the U.S. Air Force for awarding astronaut wings to X-15 pilots during the 1960’s. Whitesides said Virgin Galactic will get all its customers to space.
Earlier Virgin Galactic promotional materials indicated SpaceShipTwo would have a maximum possible altitude of 110 km (68.35 miles). Virgin Galactic’s agreement with customers stipulates a minimum altitude of 50 miles (80.5 km).
Parabolic Arc has heard that Virgin Galactic has been telling customers SpaceShipTwo will be able to reach 55 miles (88.5 km).
Whitesides said there are “well over 600 people” who have signed up for have signed up for SpaceShipTwo flights. The company had previously said that around 700 people were signed up.
Whitesides said Virgin Galactic is “well into” the flight test program for the SpaceShipTwo Unity at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. To date, the company has completed one captive carry flight and three glide tests.
There will be a number of “big milestones” coming up in the flight test program in the next few months, Whitesides said. Unity is being tested on a roughly basis; the frequency of flights will increase as the company nears the end of the flight test program.
Virgin Galactic is building a spaceship it hopes could fly 100 times or more over decade, he added. Engineers are thoroughly testing subsystems
Once the test program is completed, SpaceShipTwo will be taken down to Spaceport America for the start of commercial suborbital tourism flights. Whitesides did not provide an estimate for when that might occur.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson — who plans to be on the first commercial flight — said he is hoping to fly next year.
“Well we stopped giving dates,” he confesses. “But I think I’d be very disappointed if we’re not into space with a test flight by the end of the year and I’m not into space myself next year and the progamme isn’t well underway by the end of next year.”
Asked about the turnaround between flights, Whitesides said the company would aim to conduct initial commercial flights on a weekly basis, with the goal of shrinking the interval over time. SpaceShipTwo’s rubber-nitrous oxide hybrid engine must be replaced after each flight.
Whitesides said Virgin Galactic has been approached about flying SpaceShipTwo from other countries. Such an arrange would require the approvals of the United States government and the government of the country where SpaceShipTwo would operate, he added.
The air launched booster will be capable of placing a payload weighing up to 300 kg into sun synchronous orbit. The price will be around $12 million, Whitesides said.
LauncherOne originally was a smaller rocket that would have carried a lighter payload at a cost of under $10 million per flight. When Virgin Galactic increased the booster’s size, the company originally said it would keep the cost of a flight under $10 million.
LauncherOne will be air-launched by a modified Boeing 747 jetliner named Cosmic Girl. Operations will be based out of the Mojave Air and Space Port.