Virgin Galactic

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Virgin Galactic (website: http://www.virgingalactic.com/) was founded by Richard Branson as the galactic travel arm of his Virgin Group. Founded in 2004, Virgin Galactic was founded on the success of the Ansari X PRIZE to take advantage of the technology that won the prize. Virgin Galactic commissioned the design and construction of five of the Scaled Composites Model 339 SpaceShipTwo vehicles, which it intends to use to shuttle paying passengers into space on sub-orbital flights. Currently, Virgin Galactic operates the only commercially viable Hybrid rocket engines for use in the safe transport of humans. They unveiled SpaceShipTwo in December 2009 with what was likely the most fantastic unveiling ceremony for VIPs for any vehicle in the space industry. Notably, as the unveiling of SS2 proceeded, the high winds of the day picked up until Virgin was forced to evacuate the remaining VIPs by bus to flee the 116 MPH gusts. Branson noted, "We were fully expecting to be blown away by our beautiful new spaceship but got a little more than we bargained for!"

Virgin is expected to commence space flights sometime in 2011 or 2012 after testing of SpaceShipTwo is complete. To clear the confusion, SpaceShipTwo WILL go into space and is designed to go to a maximum altitude of 110 km (past the accepted 100km border of space), but participants will not orbit the earth. Instead, they will be on a parabolic flight without the required life-support or velocity to reach a stable orbit. Virgin has also made some motions towards flying other payloads on their WhiteKnightTwo carrier vehicles, but hasn't revealed more about those plans. Virgin's flights will leave from and return to Spaceport America located near the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.


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