credit Virgin Galactic / caption: no show for SpaceShip Two till 2011?
Virgin Galactic will likely start commercial flights in the US in 2011, not 2010 as it has stated, according to Spaceport Sweden official Johanna Bergstrom-Roos. Reported by AFP in an article carried by Spacedaily.com, if true the qoute is another indication that the 2010 date, designed to coincide with the completion of facilities at New Mexico's Spaceport America, will not be met
Bergstrom-Roos, seen in the picture below third from the left on the front row, also said that she expected Virgin Galactic flights from Spaceport Sweden in 2012. More pictures can be found here
credit Spaceport Sweden / caption: Back row (L-R) are the five new Accredited Space Agents, Hannibal & Marco Polo, Aarhus, Denmark - Anders Martin Larsen; Area Travel Agency, Helsinki, Finland - Teppo Viiperi; Area Travel Agency, Helsinki, Finland - Mari Rouvi; ICEHOTEL Travel, Kiruna, Sweden - Roland Sand; The Search, Malmö, Sweden - Andreas Axelson; Upplevelseakuten, Stockholm, Sweden - Lasse Schmidt; and across the front row (L-R) are Virgin Galactic's Kate Button and Carolyn Wincer; Johanna Bergstrom-Roos, Spaceport Sweden and Carina Johnsson, Swedish Space Corporation
Over the last five years Virgin Galactic's start of commercial operations has slipped from 2007 to late 2010. In an interview with Flight/Hyperbola the spaceline's president Will Whitehorn said he thought that if they had opted for the original idea of creating a commercial SpaceShipOne they could be flying by now
That supposed five-year development period to improve on SpaceShipOne (SS1) to make it useful for commercial operations suggests that the timetable for a vehicle three times its size with a similar sized mothership is going to be substantially longer and that those vehicles, SpaceShip Two (SS2) and WhiteKnight Two (WK2), will likely have their first commercial flight way beyond 2011
This longer development period is also supported by comments made by the spaceline's chief test pilot David Mackay in his interview with Hyperbola, when he spoke of the test vehicle programme as being "at a very early stage"
Flight is aware that Virgin Galactic's prime contractor Scaled Composites carried out a feasiblity study for Sir Richard Branson and before the Virgin group stepped in as the sole investor Scaled's then chief executive, and founder, Burt Rutan sought third party private funding with the argument that he had a customer in Virgin
Unsurprisingly requests for millions of dollars for something as unknown as space tourism were not popular, even with a proof of concept vehicle like the X Prize winning SS1
The question now is, what was the period of time between the 2004 announcement about Virgin Galactic and the decision that SS1 was insufficient and that SS2 and WK2 had to be developed? Six months?
Not very long at all actually, when Branson announced in October of 2004 his intention to operate a service a passenger figure of five was given and in the November of 2004 Flight also reported that Rutan and Branson were discussing up to nine seats for the SS1 follow-on
In which case while 2015 seems somewhat too distant, 2010 becomes less and less likely as a date. So how long till 2010 becomes 2011 officially? The delay from 2007 to 2008 came about a year after the X Prize win in 2004 so by the end of this year a 2011 start date might get announced
And to understand how long Branson has been interested in space tourism you might want to read this article from Flight from May 1999 when we reported that the UK billionaire had registered Virgin Galactic airways as a name in the April and was talking with Rotary Rocket, which Rutan was also involved with. Virgin then talked about a service in ten-years time
The fifth and final interview podcast with Whitehorn will be posted tomorrow, Friday 20 March