At the recent dedication of the main runway at the world’s first devoted commercial spaceport, Sir Richard Branson (of Virgin Galactic fame) slid in an apparently innocuous but Hiroshima-sized comment. While Virgin Galactic has practically cornered the space tourist market with the successful suborbital space flights of SpaceShipOne and upcoming flight tests of SpaceShipTwo (the larger, tourist-rated version,) apparently Branson has his sights set much higher.
According to reporters in attendance at a press conference following the dedication, Branson said, “We plan to be in orbital travel within the next few years.”
I would be shocked if this didn’t set off a tsunami through the NewSpace circuits.
Furthermore, Branson said that Virgin Galactic is in talks with some of the serious commercial orbital space transportation contenders, (SpaceX, Orbital, Boeing, Lockheed, Armadillo Aerospace, etc.,) and will soon decide whether or not to partner up to pursue NASA and commercial orbital contracts or fly solo, so-to-speak. Official word is due in early 2011.
What does this mean? Well, Branson’s formidable Virgin brand carries with it an overriding seriousness, even considering the intrinsic unknowns of commercial spaceflight, (as their clinching of the Ansari X Prize proved all-too-well.) At this point, however, I believe a statement like this is a declaration that it continues to be a great time for the promise of free-market spaceflight. It is only fitting that the comment was made at the dedication of the country’s first spaceport launch and landing lane.
Let’s hope this competition continues to force NewSpace innovation and the acceleration of hardware to orbit!