Virgin founder and chief Richard Branson had two big announcements during the Farnborough International Airshow Wednesday.
Announcement number one: If you’re itching to be a space tourist, you need only wait until December 2013. That is according to Branson, whose fledgling spaceflight company Virgin Galactic is working on creating commercial spacecraft for very rich tourists among other projects. The company, according to Branson’s blog, currently has 529 “future astronauts signed up” to head into space, including actor Ashton Kutcher.
Announcement number two: Virgin Galactic has developed a new product, LauncherOne, a launch vehicle created to send satellites into space cheaply and more efficiently.
In a video announcing the launcher, Branson cited the world’s dwindling resources as inspiration for the concept. He also mentioned that the lower price point could give space-focused startups, poorer countries and even schools the opportunity to launch their own satellites.
The launcher is carried by Virgin’s WhiteKnightTwo craft, which also carries the company’s SpaceShipTwo. While SpaceShipTwo is still in testing, according to a Virgin Galactic release, there are already customers lined up for LauncherOne, including satellite imagery company Skybox Imaging, environmental Earth observation company GeoOptics, asteroid mining venture Planetary Resources, and the cargo transport company Spaceflight.
Branson is not the only business mogul exploring the satellite launcher space. Billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan are also exploring the opportunity for a cheaper, more efficient launch system via their space exploration company Stratolaunch Systems. The company is currently partnering with Elon Musk’s Space X to create an enormous aircraft as part of an airborne launch system.
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