February 21, 2008

Virgin Galactic Orders More Spaceships

With its imminent commercial space launch scheduled for 2010, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic announced plans on Thursday to authorize the construction of five more crafts to carry prospective clients into space.

So far, about 80,000 hopeful travelers have deposited more than $31 million toward their ultimate goal of obtaining $200,000 tickets for a journey that promises five minutes in space. On Virgin Galactic's Web site, determined travelers are asked to make a minimum deposit of at least $20,000.

Alex Tai, the company's group director, said the space travel market appears to be very strong as public interest in being among the many first paying customers to venture into space is high.

Virgin has invested $250 million into their program in hopes of being the first firm to offer common commercial flights to space.

"In the short term, we have firm orders for five spaceships and options for seven," he said. "It's silly to divide the $200,000 by that 5 minutes. It really is a life-time experience,"

The $200,000 will guarantee a three-day training session for passengers that will include zero-gravity simulations and showing travelers what the earth will look like from space.

Last month, Virgin boasted its 8-passenger SpaceShipTwo and announced hopes of a test launch later this year. Public commercial flights will begin at one each week and gradually move up to 14 each week, Tai said.

Tai also said that the company expects to turn a profit within the first five years of its initial launch.

However he would not divulge any information regarding the cost or maker of each craft, but some parts will come from Pratt & Whitney, the jet engine unit of United Technologies Corp, according to Reuters.

Virgin isn't alone in the international commercial space race. Other hopefuls include Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, European aerospace firm EADS, and Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX), created by PayPal founder Elon Musk. Bigelow Aerospace, initiated by Robert Bigelow even plans to expand its hotel empire into space.

Virginia-based Space Adventures sparked the race when it sent U.S. businessman Dennis Tito on a Russian Soyuz craft for a reported $20 million in 2001.

Virgin Galactic's plans to initially launch from Mojave, California before eventually moving to launch from a space port in New Mexico.


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Virgin Galactic