October 26, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
It may be nearly two years before Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo blasts off for suborbital space with commercial passengers aboard, according to a published news report.
In an interview published online by the Wall Street Journal, Virgin Galactic's chief pilot, David Mackay, predicted that it would be at least 2013 before the company's commercial space tourism operations begin. That forecast further pushes back various possible schedules that called for flights in 2008, 2010, and 2012.
AOPA reported Oct. 19 that the space venture founded by Sir Richard Branson had signed a pact with NASA to embark on up to three scientific research missions to be selected by NASA's Flight Opportunities Program. No target date was announced for the selection of the experiments, or the flights, which could provide up to $4.5 million in revenue for the space venture. Virgin Galactic has said that its eventual goal was to transport space tourists—who can pay the $200,000 airfare—on daily flights from a so-called spaceport in New Mexico. The science missions marked a new milestone, the company said.
In recent releases, Virgin Galactic did not offer new estimates of when those operations would begin, although the company disclosed that it had collected deposits totaling more than $58 million from “455 future tourist astronauts.”
The online report also noted that Virgin Galactic envisions starting commercial operations with a single flight per week in the craft designed by a team at Burt Rutan's company Scaled Composites. That plan for flights scales back more ambitious schedules touted in previous statements and news reports, but investment and development of the program continued, it said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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