I have for some time been suspicious other big things were going on behind some scenes into which my vast network of spies and informers does not reach. I have had nods of confirmation when I voiced my opinions… but nothing specific as to precisely what was going on. The possibility of a Richard Branson and Burt Rutan alliance and something else secret going on in a Mojave hanger has been very much in the back of my mind.
Today, the Branson part of that became public fact. Whether there is more to it – and I believe there is – at least this much is now admitted openly. According to an article from the Dow Jones Newswire of 5:25 a.m this morning, emailed to me just a short while ago:
U.K. entrepreneur Richard Branson said Monday that Virgin Group (VGN.YY) plans to launch commercial space flights over the next few years.
Virgin has signed an agreement with pioneering aviation designer Burt Rutan to build an aircraft based on Rutan’s SpaceShipOne vessel, Branson said.
This I expected. I also have been wondering if they are secretly working on a next generation vehicle already. What I did not expect was major commercialization to happen quite this soon:
“Virgin has been in talks with Paul Allen and Bert throughout this year and in the early hours of Saturday morning signed a historical deal to license SpaceShipOne’s technology to build the world’s first private spaceship to go into commercial operating service,” Branson told a news conference.
The new service will be called Virgin Galactic and expects to fly 3,000 new astronauts within five years.
“Virgin Galactic will be run as a business, but a business with the sole purpose of making space travel more and more affordable,” Branson said. “Those privileged space pioneers who can afford to take our first flights will not only have the most awesome experience of their lives, but by stepping up to the plate first they will bring the dream of space travel for many millions closer to reality.”
Start saving me lads and lasses! We are bound for the stars and the government may go sit and rotate upon an aging ICBM.
UPDATE: Richard Branson was in the studio for the evening news on Channel 5 here; Channel 1 (which is really Channel 4!) gave far less coverage and used some subtle tricks to give it a negative spin.
First: Channel 5, my current favorite for UK news and not just beause the presenter is good looking. Which she is. Branson will be charging UKP 115K per person initially. He is buying into the venture with Allen and Rutan to the tune of UKP 15M. The first vehicles are to be ready for customers in three years. They will carry six. Five fare paying passengers and a pilot. It will retain the ‘shuttlecock’ re-entry mode. The fee will cover 3 days of pre-flight training with people like Buzz Aldrin; the flight will not be very long itself, with only a few minutes of freefall time. They will all fly past the 100km altitude which makes them civilian astronauts by current practice. Branson will fly on the first flight and says he might even take his very elderly father along if he is still healthy at age 90 because he does want to go. The first ship will be named… (drum roll)… the SS Enterprise.
The Ch5 presenter then went off into questions about UK rail schedules on Branson lines; the possibilities of polluting space – which Branson put into perspective by noting there are as many stars out there as there are grains of sand on the Earth; and the risk. Branson was up front that this is pioneering technology… but safe enough that he will fly, his elderly father might fly and even his kids would be allowed to go.
Ch1 on the other hand… the background music was rock with lyrics “Military Mission to Mars…” They played on the fear factor a great deal more and overall gave only a minute or two to the story. They were much more interested in what Gordon Brown had to say today.