What's Next For Virgin Galactic...

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Rutan, Branson Steal The Show With SpaceShip Plans

The SpaceShip Company -- that's the straightforward name of the next (publicly announced) venture for Burt Rutan, announced last night at Theater in the Woods, here at Oshkosh AirVenture. Rutan and Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic took the stage before an overflow crowd and said they had signed the papers that day to create the new company as a joint venture. "Scaled Composites will do the research and development, and then hand over those designs to the new company, which will be the manufacturer and marketer for what we envision as a large fleet of spaceships," Rutan said. The company's first project (funded to the tune of $120 million by Virgin Galactic) is to build the five SpaceShipTwos already on order for Virgin Galactic, but Branson and Rutan made clear they expect many more, and already are thinking about the next generation of suborbital and eventually orbital commercial spaceships. (Rutan would like to ultimately beat this planet's governments in the race to put humans on Mars.) The new company will be established in Mojave, Calif., alongside Scaled Composites. Rutan said SpaceShipTwo will have a cabin as big as that on a Gulfstream V and allow room for six or seven passengers to move about freely and enjoy their five minutes of weightlessness. He also said the ships will be capable of flying as high as 140 kilometers and over a range of a couple of hundred miles, to extend their trajectories beyond the basic up-and-down of SpaceShipOne.

Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn said the ships will be flying by 2008 and will fly over 35,000 passengers in the first 10 years ... but Rutan later said that he hasn't announced any timeline, but did let slip he believes competing "spacelines" will push the number of passengers closer to 100,000 in a relatively short period of time. Rutan also invited anyone in the audience who wants to be part of this effort to send in their resumes ... we think that includes you, too. "We have several extremely interesting programs we're working on over the next 10 years or so," he said. Also at Theater in the Woods last night, EAA President Tom Poberezny said Scaled is going to build a copy of SpaceShipOne that will go on display in the EAA AirVenture Museum by next year's AirVenture, and he presented this year's Freedom of Flight award to Mike Melvill, the first commercial astronaut.