July 12, 2012 in Business

Tycoon unveils rocket plans

W.J. Hennigan Los Angeles Times

(Full-size photo)

Branson, his kids to fly to space in ’13

FARNBOROUGH, England – The first space flight of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture will be a family affair: The billionaire adventurer confirmed Wednesday he will be joined by his two adult children.

The British tycoon said the three will make the journey 62 miles above the Earth aboard the SpaceshipTwo (SS2) next year. Some 120 other tourists who have signed up for the $200,000 two-hour trips into space over the coming years were also present at the Farnborough Airshow south of London.

“Next year, Holly and Sam will be joining me for a first voyage into space,” the thrill-seeker told a packed conference on the third day of the show. “Going into space is a hard business. It keeps my mind buzzing.”

LOS ANGELES – British billionaire Richard Branson and his space company Virgin Galactic unveiled plans to build a rocket designed to be launched in midair and then deliver small satellites into orbit for a fraction of today’s launch prices.

LauncherOne will be a two-stage rocket capable of carrying satellites that can weigh as much as 500 pounds into orbit for less than $10 million, Branson said. The new vehicle’s first commercial flight is scheduled to take place by 2016.

Virgin Galactic makes its spaceships in Mojave, where the crafts are undergoing test flights. The company also aims to launch paying customers into suborbital space as early as next year.

Branson also announced that four private companies have put down deposits as future LauncherOne customers, expressing their intent to buy several dozen launches.

Virgin Galactic’s way of getting to space is a bit different from previous ground-launched systems.

Instead of launching a satellite directly into space with a rocket, Virgin Galactic plans to do the following: A rocket tipped with a satellite will be attached to the wings of a White Knight aircraft – which resembles a massive flying catamaran because each has two fuselages – flown to 50,000 feet and dropped like a bomb.

LauncherOne will free fall for about four seconds before the rocket’s first stage ignites and propels the satellite into space. The satellite will then be jettisoned and taken to a designated low-Earth orbit.

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