|Sir Richard Branson
Photo by Phil High
Photo by Phil High
after unveiling WhiteKnightTwo in Mojave, California, Burt Rutan of
Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson and Will Whitehorn of Virgin
Galactic came to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2008 and pledged to bring the
newly introduced launch vehicle for SpaceShipTwo to next year’s fly-in
and, when ready, to conduct their first commercial sub-orbital space
flight from AirVenture.
"We’re going to
take it to Sweden to fly in the aurora borealis, to the UK, Spain, and
Australia from our home base in New Mexico. But the first place we’re
going to bring it commercially is Oshkosh," Rutan told a cheering
over flow audience in the Honda Pavilion in the Forums and
Workshop Plaza. "We’re going to make six new astronauts right
here in the evening air show with SpaceShipTwo."
WhiteKnightTwo, a twin fuselage, four-engine aircraft, is the offspring of
the aircraft that launched the first successful civilian flight aboard
SpaceShipOne into outer space, thereby winning the $10 million X prize.
But Rutan and his Virgin Galactic colleagues have their sights on a much
bigger prize: opening space flight and outer space to private
enterprise. At their forum presentation, the trio said WhiteKnightTwo,
the largest composite aircraft every built, has the capacity to make
that future possible.
getting ready for business," Whitehorn told attendees, "to
take people into space to show them the beauty of the planet, and in the
long range, taking them from point A to B around the world, and to use
the industrialization of space to support this planet as it grows to
more than 10 billion people over the next thirty years."
that WhiteKnightTwo is the 40th aircraft he’s developed, Rutan said
of the aircraft’s potential, "It’s really something that’s
beyond what I thought I’d be able to do, or we at Scaled Composites
would be able to do, only five years ago. I didn’t expect someone to
step up who had the passion for space, and the ambition to take this not
just into the first beginning of private space flight but to be able to
create a whole new industry," he continued, turning to his partner
in the venture, Sir Richard.
was very lucky to have my mother there to launch it, and my father as
well—he’s 90 years old," Sir Richard said of the prior day’s
roll out of WhiteKnightTwo. He noted that while no launch date for
commercial service has been set, "My mother’s booked on, and my
children are booked on."
looked out into the audience. "If we could guarantee your return
ticket, how many of you would want to go into space?" His question
met with a sea of raised hands and a roar of enthusiasm.
remember when I first mentioned plans for homebuild guys to build a
spaceship [at the fly in] in 1994, I was told by EAA management,
‘Burt, our members are not interested in space flight,’" Rutan
recalled to loud laughter.
Galactic intends to begin service by offering suborbital flights to
space tourists, but Rutan said the service will progress "very soon
to move into resort hotels in orbit. We want to make swings around the
moon from that resort hotel, and I think that can happen within our
building an incredible space station right in the desert in New
Mexico," Sir Richard said. "I think it will be one of ten
wonders of the world when it’s finished."
their remarks the floor was opened to questions. One attendee noted that
suborbital flight was less demanding than orbital flight and flights
around the moon, and asked how the company could achieve those goals.
of you who’ve followed the [development of the] 40 airplanes know you
don’t find out about them until they’re ready to fly," Rutan
said. "So the public doesn’t know what we’re doing in a lot of
these areas. It doesn’t help what I’m doing, or help you to detail
that. I will tell you we are working in several of these key
entrepreneur asked how he could support the private space industry.
Rutan made a parallel with the people who work at Scaled Composites.
"A lot of those
folks came right out of the types of people in this audience,"
Rutan said. "When I talk to you, this audience has more passion
than any other audience I’ve ever talked to. That’s why I love
coming to Oshkosh. The Oshkosh people who come here and enjoy the
passion that happens every year here, you’re the ones that are going
to help us grow this industry."