October 24, 2010

Virgin Galactic Hoping To Catch NASA’s Eye

Billionaire Richard Branson said on Friday that Virgin Galactic is planning to compete in the upcoming race to develop orbital space vehicles.

NASA plans to issue a solicitation as early as Monday for a follow-up to its $50 million Commercial Crew Development program, which is part of President Barack Obama's plan to revamp the U.S. space program.

The program is funding work by five companies as part of Obama's bid to bolster support to private space companies.

"There's about four companies that are seriously looking at it (the NASA commercial crew program)," Branson told Reuters.

He said Virgin Galactic was in discussions with two other companies about working together.  He added that the company would determine over the next month to team up or go alone.

One way or the other, Branson said, "We plan to be in orbital travel within the next few years."

Virgin Galactic said it will send its first spaceship into a suborbital flight in late 2011 or 2012. 

The VSS Enterprise and its carrier aircraft, the White Knight Two, were in New Mexico on Friday for the dedication of a runway at a commercial spaceport located north of Las Cruces that will become Virgin Galactic's home base.

The event drew about 600 people to the southern New Mexico desert, some of which were customers who have already put deposits down for the $200,000 space flight.

Russian Igor Kutsenko, an advertising company boss, told AFP he plans to go into space with his 57-year-old mother and 59-year-old father.

"We will travel together as soon as Virgin Galactic makes space travel a reality. This has been the dream of my life," he said, adding that he had paid a deposit of $150,000 each.


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