At $200,000 a ticket it isn’t cheap but it is definitely out of this world and you get a great view. Virgin Galactic’s plans to be the first space tourism business really took off after SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X-Prize back in 2004.
The science-fiction pundits were wrong. The future of space travel doesn’t look like a Buck Rogers-style rocket poised to roar straight up into the twinkling heavens from a tinkerer’s backyard. What space travel will look like, according to a company called Stratolaunch Systems−which includes board member and backyard tinkerer Burt Rutan−is kind of unsurprising, more airplane-like, although no less fantastical.
Burt Rutan, who retired in April from Scaled Composites, the company he founded in Mojave, Calif., has joined with Paul Allen in a plan to build the largest aircraft in the world. Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, funded the SpaceShipOne effort that successfully boosted the first privately funded manned rocket outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
Global airlines are still suffering reduced demand for flights, but the Virgin Group’s dream of launching passenger flights into space has received a boost in the form of significant new investment from Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments. The Middle East firm will invest about $280 million to take a 32-percent stake in Virgin Galactic, valuing the subsidiary at almost $900 million.
When aerospace designer Burt Rutan rolled out his manned suborbital spaceflight program and its centerpiece, SpaceShipOne (SS1), from its Mojave, Calif., hangar in April last year, reporters asked about his plans for space tourism. Rutan said he himself wasn’t interested in launching a space tourism business, but he hoped others would be able to use his technology “sometime in the future” to begin a new space industry.
A bustling airport in an otherwise desolate landscape served as the backdrop for the unveiling of what’s been hailed as the world’s first private space venture.
Northrop Grumman finalized its acquisition of Scaled Composites on August 24, increasing its shares from 40 percent to 100 percent. Scaled Composites is the aerospace and specialty composites development company founded and run by Burt Rutan, known most recently for designing the first privately funded rocket-powered spacecraft, SpaceShipOne. The spacecraft made its first supersonic flight on Dec.
Northrop Grumman now owns 100 percent of Mojave, Calif.-based Scaled Composites. On August 24, Northrop Grumman, which already owned 40 percent of Scaled, closed on the purchase of the remaining 60 percent. Scaled continues to work on the program to deliver SpaceShipTwo to Virgin Galactic. “The relationship between Scaled Composites and the Virgin Group is unchanged by this transaction,” a Northrop Grumman spokesman told AIN.
Based on the success of the SpaceShipOne (SS1) suborbital craft’s ascent on June 21 (AIN, July, page 2)–becoming the first privately funded manned spacecraft to reach 100 km (328,000 feet)–designer Burt Rutan is confident that he and his company, Mojave, Calif.-based Scaled Composites, will win the $10 million Ansari X Prize by year-end.
Mojave, Calif., is a unique place. As they drive north on State Highway 14, approaching the small burg of approximately 3,700 people, visitors first notice the hundreds of blades turning in windmill farms on hillsides to the west of town. Across the highway, dozens of jetliner tails sprout from the desert floor, idling in storage in the arid desert air at Mojave Airport.
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