“The Spaceship Company” Formed

Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson have agreed to form a new company to build new sub-orbital spacecraft for the emerging personal spaceflight industry. “The Spaceship Company” will provide equipment and launch vehicles using technology licensed from Scaled Composites for space tourism operators, including Virgin Galactic. Burt Rutan is president of Scaled Composites, the company that built the first generation manned rocket SpaceShipOne and its White Knight launch aircraft which eventually allowed them to win the US$10,000,000 Ansari X Prize last year. Sir Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group of Companies, including the recently formed Virgin Galactic which plans to take paying tourists to sub-orbital destinations.

The personal spaceflight industry received a jump start with the first successful launch of a manned vehicle by a private company on October 4, 2004. The Ansari X Prize had been modeled after a similar prize that helped launch the airline industry in the early 1900s. Scaled Composites completed two successful launches less than a week apart using the same reusable vehicles to capture the prize.

During the prize-winning second launch, SpaceShipOne was carried by White Knight to nearly 16.8 kilometers (10.4 miles) where it was released to rocket up to 112 kilometers (69.7 miles). The height set a new record for a manned flight by a private company. Several other companies are working on their own technology as private industry becomes more interested in space efforts including tourism and mining. The industry’s next goal is to develop technology for reaching Earth orbit.

Meanwhile, the formation of “The Spaceship Company” appears to herald the coming rush of tourism to sub-orbital destinations. Thrill seekers and enthusiasts are expected to pay up to US$200,000 for tickets to board next-generation vehicles that will spend only a few short minutes at the edge of space. As private business increasingly views space as a financial opportunity, industry supporters also hope their own successes will reinvigorate government manned space flight programs, now limited to the United States, Russia, and China. With the NASA space shuttle fleet expected to be retired in 2010 if not sooner and as more countries develop their own space programs, the opportunities for private industry appear to be more numerous than ever.

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