Virgin Galactic is a company that is part of Richard Branson's Virgin Group. Virgin Galactic plans to provide sub-orbital spaceflights to the paying public, along with suborbital space science missions and orbital launches of small satellites. Further in the future Virgin Galactic hopes to offer orbital human spaceflights as well. Virgin Galactic uses a method with two vehicles: a 'mother-ship' in the form of a large aeroplane which takes-off and lands like a normal aeroplane and the actual space-vehicle launches from the mothership when she is inflight giving the spacecraft a start-speed and maximum altitude from a 'normal' fixed-wing-aircraft.
It is planned that the spacecraft will be robust and affordable enough to take paying passengers ($200,000 per person). As of September 2011, there are around 500 ticket-holders in line to fly with Virgin Galactic. Notable passengers that have already submitted their deposit include Tom Hanks, Ashton Kutcher, Katy Perry, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie. The craft is projected to be a six passenger, two pilot craft. Its planned trajectory will overlap the Earth’s atmosphere at 70,000 feet which will make it a sub-orbital journey with a short period of weightlessness. The spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, will be carried to about 16 kilometers or 52000 ft by a carrier aircraft, White Knight II. At that point, when the carrier aircraft reaches its maximum height, the SpaceShipTwo vehicle will separate and continue to over 100 km (the Kármán line, a common definition of where "space" begins). The time from liftoff of the White Knight booster carrying SpaceShipTwo until the touchdown of SpaceShipTwo after the sub-orbital flight will be about 2.5 hours. The sub-orbital flight itself will only be a small fraction of that time. The weightlessness will last approximately 6 minutes. Passengers will be able to release themselves from their seats during these 6 minutes and float around the cabin.
In addition to the sub-orbital passenger business, Virgin Galactic will market SpaceShipTwo for sub-orbital space science missions and market WhiteKnightTwo for "small satellite" launch services. They had planned to initiate RFPs for the satellite business in early 2010.
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