FARNBOROUGH, England (The Blaze/AP) — Not only did Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, a commercial “spaceline,” announce this week its air-launch rocket and the successful test flights of its suborbital space vehicle, but the founder also revealed that first venture will be a family affair. The billionaire adventurer confirmed Wednesday he will be joined by his two adult children on the company’s first space mission.
The British tycoon behind the Virgin business empire that spans cable television, airlines and space tourism revealed that the three will make the journey 62-miles (100 kilometers) 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.”
Virgin says it has 529 paid up passengers already — one more than the total of space travelers since the former Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin became the first man to go into space in 1961.
The future space tourists glimpsed a replica of the SS2 set up outside the auditorium as the actual one undergoes flight testing in California’s Mojave Desert. It will take off from a spaceport in New Mexico that was designed by British architect Lord Foster. The craft is designed to seat six people as well as the two pilots.
On Thursday, the company announced that SS2 had completed its first successful glide test.
“Since receiving an experimental launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration in May for SpaceShipTwo and its carrier vehicle, WhiteKnightTwo, there has been a rapid escalation of test activity,” said George Whitesides, CEO and president of Virgin Galactic, in a statement. “In that timeframe, we’ve had seven successful test flights and three full-scale rocket motor tests. We are on track for powered flight by the end of 2012.”
Before tourists ever make it up into space, they first will undergo a week of training at the spaceport before taking their flight.
“I wanted to be the first Irishman in space and I’m really looking forward to it,” said 70-year-old businessman and author Bill Cullen, who said he was the first to sign up for the ride in 2004.
Grant Roberts, 36, said his dream of space flight came from his grandfather, who was a pilot for Britain’s Royal Air Force and flew on missions over Germany in World War II.
Branson also said a new launch vehicle — LauncherOne — would take small satellites into space at much lower cost than is now possible The Virgin Galactic team said a number of companies were hoping to use LauncherOne, which is expected to begin operations in 2016 and can carry up to 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of weight.
“It will be a critical new tool for the global research community, enabling us all to learn about our home planet more quickly and affordably,” he said.
Watch Brandson announce LauncherOne, explain how it works and its potential:
Branson continued in a statement explaining that he sees LauncherOne as bringing “satellite launch into the realm of affordability for innovators everywhere, from start-ups and schools to established companies and national space agencies.”
LauncherOne will be able to carry up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to orbit for less than $10 million. According to the company’s press release, the rocket will be launched from WhiteKnightTwo, which can also carry SpaceShipTwo into suborbital missions. The company sees air launches such as this as offering flexibility thanks to the wide range of launch locations and ability to conform to different mission requirements and weather situations.