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. The Birth of SpaceShipTwo

SpaceShipTwo will be a five-person, sub-orbital vessel owned by a new venture called Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of Virgin Atlantic Airways. The inaugural flight is scheduled for 2007. Rutan (middle), as well as Richard Branson (right), Virgin's eclectic chairman, say they will be aboard. Credit: AFP
by Irene Mona Klotz
Mojave CA (UPI) Oct 5, 2004
The world's newest spaceship is back at its spotless hangar at the Mojave Airport, serving as a backdrop for dozens of television news shows.

The day after its flawless third flight out of the atmosphere - a mission that captured a $10-million cash prize for its owners - it was quiet. Only a handful of the thousands of guests who came to witness the flight remained in town.

Still spanking new, SpaceShipOne has fulfilled its mission, forever retiring the notion that only governments can fly people beyond the atmosphere. Spaceship creator Burt Rutan plans to send his craft to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., but not before it fulfills one last mission.

The offers to sell sub-orbital spaceflights to government organizations and private agencies and individuals were pouring in even before SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize competition. Though Rutan and his partner - Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen - would like to make money from their investment, they have something bigger in mind: SpaceShipTwo, a commercial, passenger-carrying spaceliner.

My gut tells me that the additional flying we may do on this airplane before it goes to the Air & Space Museum should be focused on developing the very best space tourism vehicle, Rutan said at a news conference following Monday's prize-winning flight.

We may define reasons to fly SpaceShipOne in a research mode to gather more data, to get a few more pieces of information that will help us do a world-class job on developing a commercial spaceliner, he said. My gut tells me ... that's where I've got to focus all my talents.

SpaceShipTwo will be a five-person, sub-orbital vessel owned by a new venture called Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of Virgin Atlantic Airways. The inaugural flight is scheduled for 2007. Rutan, as well as Richard Branson, Virgin's eclectic chairman, say they will be aboard.

I think anyone who had the chance to go would want to go, said Trevor Beattie, a British advertising personality, who already has booked a flight.

The passenger list also is expected to include the winner of a consumer promotion by softdrink manufacturer 7 UP, which plans to unveil details of its competition next year. The company made the announcement following the completing of SpaceShipOne's landing Monday.

Ticket prices for the early flights are expected to cost about $190,000, but Rutan and Branson said they expect prices to fall rapidly as other companies stake claims in the space tourism business. Branson said Rutan will build five vessels over the next three years.

Tourists will fly even higher than SpaceShipOne's record-breaking altitude of 69 miles and experience about seven minutes of weightlessness.

Every one of those passengers will have a much, much bigger window, a spectacular view, Branson said. It'll be the most beautiful thing ever created by man. It's an adventure where we hope to make money because I don't think space has a future unless people make money.

Branson added that profits from Virgin Galactic will be re-invested in space tourism development.

Virgin's agreement with Rutan and Allen is not exclusive, however. Mojave Aerospace Ventures, the partnership created to develop SpaceShipOne and related projects, is considering offers from four or five other companies as well, Rutan said.

Opening space for private travel was the primary goal behind the X Prize, which offered $10 million to the first team that builds and flies a three-passenger vehicle to sub-orbital altitude twice within two weeks.

Following a test flight in June, SpaceShipOne flew its two X Prize flights on Sept. 29 and Oct. 4 - the 47th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite. The basketball-sized Sputnik, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, was the opening shot in a Cold War battle that ended with the United States' landing Apollo astronauts on the moon in 1969.

Though 26 teams from around the world entered the competition, only one - the vessel designed by Rutan and financed by Allen - has flown. A Canadian team called the da Vinci Project had planned to fly this week, but postponed the attempt to continue building and testing its vehicle. Team leader Brian Feeney, who attended the SpaceShipOne launch, said he plans to fly before the end of the month.

Other companies that did not enter the X Prize are working on passenger spaceships as well.

XCOR Aerospace, also of Mojave, is designing the Xerus, a two-person craft that will cost an estimated $10 million to develop. The company is looking to offset development costs with government contracts for related technology development, said XCOR president Jeff Greason.

Many of the teams have models, test articles and detailed blueprints, but only SpaceShipOne has completed a successful flight. Rutan calls the project Tier One, the sub-orbital element of a multi-part program to revolutionize off-planet travel.

As a pledge to his commitment, Rutan plans to take off a small piece of SpaceShipOne before it is sent off to become a museum display. Part of the craft will be packed aboard a spacecraft bound for Pluto, the first deep-space mission planned without government backing.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2004 by United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of by United Press International.

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