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Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, announced that its passenger-carrying suborbital space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), successfully completed its first glide flight test on June 26 since a recent integration period for rocket motor systems and maintenance. Also, on June 26, the spaceship’s engine, RocketMotorTwo (RM2), underwent another successful full duration test fire, marking the first time the company and its partners have undertaken test flight and test firing on the same day. Both milestones prime Virgin Galactic to reach powered flight by the end of the year.
“Since receiving an experimental launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration in May for SpaceShipTwo and its carrier vehicle, WhiteKnightTwo, there has been a rapid escalation of test activity,” said George Whitesides, CEO and president of Virgin Galactic. “In that timeframe, we’ve had seven successful test flights and three full-scale rocket motor tests. We are on track for powered flight by the end of 2012.”
The glide flight was performed by Scaled Composites, the prime contractor for the spaceflight system. To perform the flight, SS2 was air-released from WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) at an altitude of 51,000 feet. At the SS2 controls were Scaled pilots Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury. In the carrier aircraft were Scaled test pilot Mark Stucky and David Mackay, Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot. Flying in the chase plane for the test were Mike Melvill, who piloted the first private flight to space, and Virgin Galactic pilot Keith Colmer.
The rocket motor firing was performed by Sierra Nevada Space Systems, the prime contractor for the RM2 system. The 55-second test was the thirteenth full-scale flight design RM2 hot fire. All objectives were completed. In addition to this test, on June 20 a full-scale RM2 test firing took place for the first time at Scaled Composites’ test site in Mojave, Calif., under full direction of the spaceship’s Rocket Motor Controller. This firing provided an end-to-end test of the rocket motor systems – a critical step in preparation for powered flight.
This intense period of activity comes just weeks before Virgin Galactic, along with its Mojave-based sister manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company, will gather customers and VIPs at the Farnborough International Air Show 2012. Guests will attend a special briefing from company founder Sir Richard Branson and other company executives.
Virgin Galactic flights booked in the US are handled exclusively by Virtuoso travel advisors. Click here to learn more about the Virtuoso/Virgin Galactic partnership.
Fledgling space line Virgin Galactic held a dedication ceremony for their newly completed Terminal Hangar Facility, which has been aptly named Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space. Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant at Spaceport America located in Southern New Mexico.
Looking skyward, more than 800 guests marveled at Virgin Galactic’s commercial space vehicles as they soared through the skies of southern New Mexico during the dedication ceremonies of Virgin Galactic’s new home at Spaceport America. The flight of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo was the highlight of a spectacular ceremony which featured the dedication of the Sir Norman Foster-designed building and announcements of new scientific and educational initiatives for the world’s first commercial space line.
Virtuoso’s Accredited Space Agents were on hand to witness history alongside hundreds of guests that included their Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts (those already booked on a future flight), dignitaries and members of the international media.
The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space, a combined terminal and hangar facility, will support up to two WhiteKnightTwo and five SpaceShipTwo vehicles. In addition, The Gateway will house all of the company’s astronaut preparation and celebration facilities, a mission control center, and a friends and family area. There is also space committed to public access via the planned New Mexico Spaceport Authority’s Visitor Experience.
Contact a Virtuoso Travel Advisor to find out how you can begin your journey to space now.
To learn more about Virtuoso’s exclusive Virgin Galactic program, click here.
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The spaceship was released from its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo (Eve), at an altitude of 45,000 feet. The two main goals of the flight were to carry out a clean release of the spaceship from its mothership and for the pilots to free fly and glide back and land at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. Click here to watch footage of the historic flight.
The world’s first commercial space line has conducted 39 system test flights to date, culminating with this latest milestone. More glide tests are on the way prior to powered testing which will lead up to full commercial operations.
Virgin Galactic is now well on the way to becoming the world’s first commercial space line with 370 customer deposits totaling $50 million. Commercial flights will begin after comprehensive flight testing and finalizing regulatory approvals. Nearly 400 future astronauts have already signed up to make history of their own. Virtuoso has exclusive rights to sell Virgin Galactic space travel in the Americas. Deposits start from $20,000.
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, who was present during the flight, commented, “This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin. For the first time since we seriously began the project in 2004, I watched the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on the runway at Mojave Air and Space Port and it was a great moment. Now, the sky is no longer the limit and we will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year.”
For more information, visit the Virgin Galactic website.
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It has now been a few days since I was at the historic unveiling of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise. I’ve not only been professionally connected to this project for three years as Virtuoso CEO but also personally as a Founder Future Astronaut, and this entry is from the personal side. You see, I have six models of VMS Eve carrying VSS Enterprise! I have them at work, at home, heck, I think the only place I don’t have one is in my car – hmmmmm? I was there for the amazing ASA visit to Scaled Composites during Virtuoso’s Travel Mart 2008, I was there for the unveiling of the models in New York and the awesome party that followed, and I was there for the unveiling of VMS Eve, so my expectations were pretty high for what I was going to see this week.
First Look At VSS Enterprise
Nothing could have prepared me for the experience – seeing them coupled together, coming through the mist, was just awesome. Simply put, you can’t truly appreciate how incredible these two look together – they are sexy, powerful and awe-inspiring! Nothing has been built in decades that both captures the imagination and pushes the envelope like this spaceship and her mothership. My emotions went from toe-tingling excitement to tears of joy to be part of such a great human accomplishment. Every Future Astronaut I met was also moved and we all had one universal feeling – those who are waiting to book are missing out on the incredible experience that Virgin Galactic has created for those of us helping them prove this is a commercially viable enterprise (pun intended!).
Virgin Galactic Is Making History
Getting to know the Virgin and Scaled teams has been such great part of this journey. Hearing Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Richardson talk about the significance of this project while also poking fun at each other was great fun. Getting to know the test pilots – Brian Binnie, the winning X prize pilot, and now “Forger” and David Mackay – well, where else would I have ever had that opportunity? This is not just getting to observe history. It has been an opportunity to know the people making history – to share their dreams and see those dreams come to reality.
As for me, I never dreamed of being an astronaut or a pilot. I want to experience this journey because I believe it embodies the very best of what travel is all about – getting out of your comfort zone, seeing things from a different perspective, and appreciating the world. Who knows what effect space tourism will have on the world? Maybe having creative and successful people detach themselves from our planet, even for a short time, will inspire them to do even more for us all.
Written by Virtuoso CEO, Matthew D. Upchurch
Today’s unveiling of Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShipTwo is another historic step toward the realization of commercial space tourism. Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic team have dared to dream that everyday people would want to escape Earth’s pull and see our blue planet as few before them have. Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites have literally put wings to that dream, and today we saw firsthand the vehicle they have created. I could describe the composite material used to make the ship lighter, stronger and greener than any plane or rocket ever constructed. I could recite the years of development in concept and design, along with the huge financial commitments, that together have brought us to today’s event. But I’d rather leave the facts to the engineers, accountants and reporters and, instead, tell you what this means to me personally.
As I told Chris Elliott, the idea that while I float weightless above the Earth I can look down from the edge of the atmosphere to actually see the curve of the Earth is extremely exciting. I know it will be a life-changing event! I learned early on that seeing the beauty of the natural world, exploring her wonders and getting to know her inhabitants, enriches my life beyond description and measure. Once I have completed my own flight aboard SpaceShipTwo, I will have a totally new perspective from a completely new vantage. It will be the ultimate travel experience.
Equally exciting for me is knowing this experience is available to others who share my passion for amazing life experiences. The first passenger flights are expected to launch within the next 18 to 24 months. Yes, you can book your seat right now. Just contact a Virtuoso Accredited Space Agent. If you go to the Virtuoso web site, you’ll find the contact information to connect you to a Virtuoso member who has been hand-selected and specially trained by Virgin Galactic to be an Accredited Space Agent.
On December 7, Virgin Galactic rolls out the world’s first commercial manned spaceship, SpaceShipTwo. Check back often next week for the latests updates from this event. In the meantime, here’s a brief look at the journey to space tourism:
April 12, 1961
Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space.
July 20, 1969
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.
May 18, 1996
Ansari X Prize announced: $10 million for the first private team to fly consecutive flights to space within two weeks.
June 21, 2004
First private manned space flight. Mike Melvill pilots SpaceShipOne, designed by Burt Rutan’s aerospace firm, Scaled Composites.
September 27, 2004
Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan partner to create the world’s first commercial manned space operator, Virgin Galactic.
October 4, 2004
Test pilot Brian Binnie wins Ansari X Prize in SpaceShipOne.
July 20, 2005
Virgin Galactic sells first tickets to space; more than 300 future astronauts have reserved seats to date.
December 6, 2006
Virgin Galactic selects U.S. Accredited Space Agents, 100 percent of whom are Virtuoso travel advisors. Training commences in February at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
June 12, 2007
Virtuoso travel advisors selected as the exclusive space agents for Canada; training commences.
September 4, 2007
Spaceport America designs unveiled in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Virgin Galactic’s future headquarters.
January 23, 2008
WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo designs unveiled; Virtuoso Accredited Space Agents complete a two-day forum at National Aerospace Training & Research Center in Philadelphia.
April 28, 2008
Virtuoso’s Central and South American space agents chosen.
December 21, 2008
First test flight of WhiteKnightTwo.
May 28, 2009
Phase 1 rocket testing for SpaceShipTwo completed.
June 18, 2009
Spaceport America breaks ground.
July 27, 2009
WhiteKnightTwo makes public debut at EAA AirVenture. Virtuoso Accredited Space Agents and confirmed future astronauts granted VIP access to the event.
December 7, 2009
Virgin Galactic will unveil the world’s first commercial manned spaceship, SpaceShipTwo.
Virgin Galactic, the world’s first spaceline, will soon transport ordinary citizens into suborbital space before gliding them safely back down to Earth, and, in fact, has already accepted reservations on the first flights to another world.
To book these seats, Virgin Galactic turned to Virtuoso, the travel industry’s foremost network of luxury travel advisors, and granted it exclusive North American rights to book these spaceflights. The spaceline appointed select Virtuoso member travel advisors to become the first Accredited Space Agents (ASAs), and, with their assistance, you’ll be able to see Earth through a window previously reserved for astronauts.
Next week, Virgin Galactic unveils it’s first spaceship in the Mojave Desert. Several Virtuosos, including CEO Matthew Upchurch, will be on hand to help Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic team celebrate. Check back with us for updates and first-hand accounts of the festivities.
In the meantime, click here to learn more about the Virtuoso/Virgin Galactic partnership and find an ASA who can book you into space.
In case you’ve missed seeing these in the recent issues of Saveur, attached are the 1/3-page promotional ads that ran in the November and December 2009 issues of the magazine. They are rotating six Virtuoso board members into each issue in a clever way.