Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, christened VSS Enterprise during a glide flight in Mojave, CA, USA. (Photo : Virgin Galactic. Photo by Mark Greenberg.)
Virgin America announced on Friday the "launch" of its Mission Galactic Web site that will allow Virgin Atlantic Elevate members to enter into a contest to be among the first individuals to take advantage of recent space commercialization efforts and receive a free suborbital flight into outer space.
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"As I travel around the world I see increasing and tragic evidence of how the depletion of our world's natural resources is affecting so many people in our rapidly expanding population," Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder said in a statement. "This downward spiral doesn't have to be a one way inevitably. At Virgin we want to do things differently and lead by example. Advances in technology have revolutionized the way we live, satellites can now be much smaller, smart and powerful. However the obstacle of the inefficient way we get satellites into orbit still remains. But all that is about to change..."
Virgin America Elevate members who also fly Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Australia will earn "status points" for every flight purchased over the next year. The person who earns the most points by August 7, 2013 will win the Virgin Galactic suborbital space flight. Virgin Galactic is the world's first commercial spaceline. It will offer flights on SpaceShipTwothrough its LauncherOne vehicle to the general public with a price tag of less than ten million dollars.
Virgin Galactic has received substantial funding from its partner aabar Investments PJS. The spaceline has also announced that it already has several customers lined up to purchase a total of several dozen launches once LauncherOne is up and running, which is estimated to be around 2016. Among the customers are: Skybox Imaging, GeoOptics, Inc., Spaceflight, Inc. and Planetary Resources, Inc.
"Virgin Galactic continues to innovate space access, and LauncherOne is a key step in its successful commercialization," Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny, CEO of aabar Investments PJS said recently at the Farnborough International Air Show 2012 in July. "This development promises to redefine the small satellite market and to promote new research and educational opportunities. aabar is proud to be partnering in this exciting journey by continuing to support Virgin Galactic and its initiatives."
At the same event, two companies invested in small satellite manufacturing - Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada Space Systems announced plans to make available "optimized satellite designs" that will match LauncherOne performance specifications. According to Virgin Galactic these designs will enable customers to maximize capability and minimize time to market for building new satellites to be used for commercialized launches.
"Small satellite launch is an area ripe for disruption," George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO said. "Miniaturized satellite components and constrained budgets are driving commercial clients, academic users and government agencies all to clamor for an affordable, dedicated launch vehicle. Now, thanks to aabar's investment, our existing capabilities, and the expert team we've already assembled, we're prepared to fill that void by bringing LauncherOne to market."