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Richard Branson lays out roadmap to put satellites, and his kids, into space


July 11, 2012

A replica of SpaceShipTwo on display at Farnborough Airshow (Photo: Mark Chivers/Virigin Galactic)

A replica of SpaceShipTwo on display at Farnborough Airshow (Photo: Mark Chivers/Virigin Galactic)

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Richard Branson today set out the roadmap for Virgin Galactic's immediate future by announcing that he will be taking his children along for the ride when the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) makes its inaugural flight next year (should all go to plan). As expected, Branson also confirmed plans for a commercial service to put satellites in orbit at a tenth of today's costs, marking the resumption of Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne program.

At Farnborough Airshow, Virgin Galactic announced that 529 would-be astronauts have signed up to take the US$200,000, 60-mile (96-km) high trip. WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) will carry SS2 to an altitude of 50,000 feet before releasing it to journey out of the blue, where its six passengers and two pilots will experience weightlessness. SS2 will then glide back to its spaceport in New Mexico.

The 529 milestone is significant, being one more passenger than 528 people that have traveled into space to date, arguably lending some credibility to Branson's aim for Virgin Galactic to "revolutionize the way we get to space." The aim is to put all 529 into space within a few years of the first trip.

Hints that Virgin Galactic would again look to the subject of commercial satellite launches had led to speculation in recent weeks that the company would resume its LauncherOne program, and Virgin Galactic's statement today indeed confirmed that work on LauncherOne will continue.

Like SS2, LauncherOne would be carried to sub-orbital altitudes by WhiteKnightTwo, effectively replacing the SpaceShipTwo module to put small satellites up to 500 pounds (225 kg) in weight into orbit for a $10 million fee. LauncherOne would be a two-stage rocket powered by kerosene and liquid oxygen engines

Virgin Galactic announced that four companies had paid deposits for the service, including Planetary Resources, the asteroid-mining venture backed by Avatar director James Cameron.

A video of Richard Branson waxing lyrical about Virgin Galactic's plans can be seen below.

Source: Virgin Galactic

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

cool, payload size is small, but that's likely the biggest market segment.

I think this will do very well. I look forward to seeing them build it and launch it. (I'm also keeping an eye on the stratolaunch...which is basically the same thing...except on steroids.

Derek Howe

Excellent presentation James as Derek said I think this will do very well

Bill Bennett

While an altitude of 50,000 feet is suborbital it is generally not called that.

I am hoping that LauncherOne is a reusable suborbital vehicle similar to SS2 with the exception that it ejects the third stage vehicle at about 330,000 feet.


Virgin always seems to be doing such cool stuff.


I know how the frustration of raising kids can drive this kind of innovation :^)


OK, I get that it is cool to be able to launch a satellite less expensively and obviously with less use of fuels, etc. Just curious as to what happens to the space junk that accumulates in earth's orbit. Where do the launcher pieces go when the satellite is launched? Will the earth end up with rings like Saturn only made up of things we launch out of the atmosphere and how will that affect us?

I am very supportive of the commercialization of space exploration, but I hope we can do it responsibly. Boldly go.

Bonnie Dillabough

re; Bonnie Dillabough

Responsible satellite launch concerns are already putting everything but the satellite into fast decay orbits like the shuttle would get op to orbital velocity and then discard the main tank on a path that brought it down over the Indian ocean before using the OMEs to round the orbit.

Very responsible launch concerns are insisting on a planed end of life burn that will remove the satellite from its parking place and either deorbit it or put it into an orbit that decays out. Personally I like aiming at the moon from geostationary.


10 million for a satellite, 1.2 million for 6 passengers. One of these is either a high profit or the other is loosing money..

Also I suspect he will quickly run out of passengers who can afford the ticket for what amounts to a "thrill" ride that lasts only a few minutes in weightlessness. It's cool and all, but highly impractical.

Artisteroi Rlsh Gadgeteer

re; Artisteroi Rlsh Gadgeteer

The satellite launch is the more difficult operation.


"including Planetary Resources, the asteroid-mining venture backed by Avatar director James Cameron."

Cameron provides no financial backing for Planetary Resources, he's listed as an advisor to them that's it.

Perhaps if planetary resources ever makes a film of their work he might prove useful eh?

Or perhaps they just want to know how the bad guys mined in his movie Avatar.

Ironic that he blasts mining/industry so hard in that movie, and turns around and becomes involved in it in real life...

Maybe he's just street cred for use with combatting the the liberals... kinda like having the humane society around to make sure they dont harm animals while shooting movies. At the bottom of Planetary Resources profit/loss statement it will say "No blue 9foot aliens harmed in the mining of these resources"

Dan K
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