Written by Phin Upham
The history of Virgin Galactic begins with a single test flight in June of 2004. Mike Melville flew SpaceShipOne in the world’s first recorded private space flight. That September, Sir Richard Branson unveiled plans to build a commercial space craft he would use to travel off world.
Virgin Galactic has two standing contracts. The first is to build SpaceShipTwo, the second is for WhiteKnightTwo. Mojave Aerospace Ventures has the contract to build the crafts, and the state of New Mexico has a contract to supply a hangar for craft storage.
Work began earnestly in 2005, when the company announced plans to invest $250 million in what it called “the space tourism industry.” The first 100 passengers to sign up came before the close of 2005, with $31 million in deposits for passengers by 2008.
The company uses what’s called a “mothership” to help launch a smaller spacecraft. SpaceShipTwo is an unmanned vehicle with two hulls that are linked by a central wing.
Virgin was supposed to start flights by 2009, but suffered a major setback. An explosion that occurred during testing killed three technicians on the ground and caused injuries to three other workers. Commercial service has been a hard target to hit.
There have been several test flights, including glider flights and rocket tests. Most of these tests have been positive, with rockets reaching proper height and speed. Virgin also has a “memorandum of understanding” with NASA, which is like a standing agreement for cooperation between the two organizations.