Posted By RichC on July 29, 2008
The day after unveiling White Knight Two 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.”
White Knight Two, 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 White Knight Two, the largest composite aircraft every built, has the capacity to make that future possible.
“Weâ€™re 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.”
Noting that White Knight Two is the 40th aircraft heâ€™s developed, Rutan said of the aircraftâ€™s potential, “Itâ€™s really something thatâ€™s beyond what I thought Iâ€™d be able to do, or we at Scaled Composites would be able to do, only five years ago. I didnâ€™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.
“I was very lucky to have my mother there to launch it, and my father as wellâ€”heâ€™s 90 years old,” Sir Richard said of the prior dayâ€™s roll out of White Knight Two. He noted that while no launch date for commercial service has been set, “My motherâ€™s booked on, and my children are booked on.”
Branson 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.
“I 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, â€˜Burt, our members are not interested in space flight,â€™” Rutan recalled to loud laughter.
Virgin 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 lifetimes.”
“Weâ€™re 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 itâ€™s finished.”
After 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.
“Those of you whoâ€™ve followed the [development of the] 40 airplanes know you donâ€™t find out about them until theyâ€™re ready to fly,” Rutan said. “So the public doesnâ€™t know what weâ€™re doing in a lot of these areas. It doesnâ€™t help what Iâ€™m doing, or help you to detail that. I will tell you we are working in several of these key areas.”
A young 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 Iâ€™ve ever talked to. Thatâ€™s why I love coming to Oshkosh. The Oshkosh people who come here and enjoy the passion that happens every year here, youâ€™re the ones that are going to help us grow this industry.”