Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne-point-five: a future that could have been

by | May 8, 2008 | Seradata News | 1 comment

A while ago Sir Richard Branson’s special projects guru Alex Tai, then Virgin Galactic chief operating officer, was talking to me about the whole space tourism enterprise’s development and Tai suddenly mentioned an interesting what-if; that in 2004 he and others at Galactic had considered flying SpaceShipOne commerciallyThe argument for this was that the vehicle that could take the tourists already existed, it had been successfully test flown and one or more could be run off the ‘production line’ fairly quickly and the commercial service could come into operation a lot sooner

It certainly made a lot of sense, the SpaceShipOne-point-five (my name for the tourist variant SS1) could operate from Mojave air and space port, the vehicle would only need relatively minor modifications (I think) to meet the requirements of the commercial space launch amendments act 2004 (CSLAA 2004), the investment and start-up costs for Virgin Group – Branson’s commercial empire that is paying for Scaled Composites to develop SpaceShipTwo (SS2) – would be a lot less than the $250 million being spent on SS2, its carrier aircraft White Knight II and related ground operations at New Mexico’s proposed Spaceport America

Admittedly there would be a few obstacles, Mojave air and space port would have to get approval for the flights and the delay before the FAA’s flight rules for suborbital manned flight, following the Congressional passage of the CSLAA 2004, were in force could hamper the schedule for start of commerial service

As it was the suggestion was rejected by Branson, according to Tai, as he wanted to have a vehicle specifically designed for the tourism flights and they recognised the entire regulatory framework was still developing and would not be in place for a while

I can understand the issues with the regulatory environment and airport licence situation being problems for a rapid startup but I think in the years to come some might wish that perhaps SS1.5 had gone ahead as they realise that it might have been a good stepping stone in reusable vehicle operations experience

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