Virgin Galactic

[reading time: eight minutes]

If you’re joining in today, be sure to learn more on our quest for space entrepreneurship with our month-long series “Is space becoming private?” clicking here.

This is the last iteration of our mini-series on commercial space exploration and on the whys and hows of it.

[This article has a companion track that (IMO) ameliorates the reader experience: it is J. Strauss II – An der schönen, blauen Donau]

Today’s guest is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Compared to our previous guests, SpaceX and Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic has a completely different business proposition and mission: while the first couple focus on satellites deployment and low-cost access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the latter posits itself as the first space airline, which goes by the couple name “spaceline”.

The entire Virgin Galactic purpose pivots around space tourism and selling $250k tickets for a seat on its half-glider half-rocket SpaceShipTwo.

And if you’re thinking “Dude, that’s an unreasonable price to pay upfront for something that is not even implemented yet”, think twice.
Some people did.
Like 700.

And that’s reasonable, space is fascinating, and even if we aren’t talking about point-to-point travel to and from Clavius Base on the Moon, suborbital space flight has its beauty.

Commercial passenger service to space may turn out to be an astonishingly difficult proposition to meet. In order to have a remote chance of success, it has to contend with

  1. Gravity;
  2. Violent rocket-propelled g-forces;
  3. Supersonic speeds and shock waves;
  4. Jaw-dropping decelerations, re-entry over-heating
  5. Every other thing that may kill you in space that would complete the list.

After meeting all those criteria, in the end, it must still be profitable. Crazy right?

But in a sense being an entrepreneur is all about being the craziest guy in the room while others laugh at you and at your ideas. Eventually though, your better version of reality will substitute theirs and you’ll be the one laughing.

Richard Branson’s better version of reality is one where he creates a spaceship company that could give people the most memorable day in their lives, and who knows, he may be able to do this and let us reach Musk’s Mars Base in our lifetime.

Let’s get down to the how.

He built a special spaceship. Actually he built two of them, made out of cawk2-3arbon composites. The first, which goes by the name of  WhiteKnightTwo, is a weird looking, twin-fuselage mother ship involving a 140-foot wingspan and four turbofan engines—a heavy lifter designed to hold a rocket ship between its fuselages, take off with it from a runway, and fly it into the thin air at 47,000 feet for a horizontal launch.

The rocket ship itself instead, SpaceShipTwo, is twin-tailed, winged aircraft t built around a hybrid rocket engine containing enough fuel for a one-minute burn—sufficient to thrust pf03_ss2_burnthe aircraft to a speed of Mach 3.5 (about 2,500 miles per hour) in a vertical climb and project it into space, from which it would return without power, as a glider.

It had space for 8 people: two pilots and six passengers.


When will this be ready? We still don’t know. Virgin Galactic hasn’t committed yet to a date, and, as we are accustomed to, entrepreneurs have a tendency to give unreliable and unrealistic forecasts, so for now, it is better not to ask.

Yet we may be at a turning point, as public awareness regarding space has increased dramatically over the last years, and together with SpaceX and Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic increases the odds of having serious developments in our space programs, civilian or military of sort

What will be our role as managers and entrepreneurs in space exploration over the next decade or so?

Where will we stand as a society when the moment to turn towards a multi-planetary species will occur?

Where will we be when the count-down reaches t-0? On top of a massive tank of liquid hydrogen reaching for the stars of the cosmos or caring about earthly marginal thinking? It’s time to open up our horizons and lean towards the future we love, the future yet to be invented.

Get the latest space updates every Sunday here on International Space Sunday, or follow me on twitter @carlostoppani.
Do you feel like machines are going to enslave us all in the near future? Then head over my other section, Tech Stuff and learn more about your future employer.

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