In a move where science fiction has become reality, the first privately owned spaceship factory has now been completed in the Mojave Desert in California bringing us closer to actual space tourism.
The Spaceship Co. is a joint venture of Scaled Composites (a Mojave, California based company) and Virgin Galactic, British billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism company. This $8million 68,000 square foot facility will primarily be used to assemble, integrate and test SpaceShipTwo space crafts, a spaceship based on the SpaceShipOne prototype which was the first privately financed manned rocket ship to reach space in 2004. The facility will also manufacture the carrier aircraft White Knight that will help take SpaceShipTwo into space. The facility has enough room to make two spaceships and two carrier aircrafts simultaneously and the company has already begun posting job openings on its website for engineers and technicians.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told the Los Angeles Times that completion of the production facility now moves Virgin Galactic closer to sending paying passengers into space. “This is a big day for Galactic! We’re building the first-ever space line!”
Ironically, The Spaceship Co. is near Palmdale’s Plant 42 where the space shuttles used to be assembled until the project was finally retired in July. That massive hanger now sits empty. The completion of The Spaceship Co. represents a new passage in the history of human space travel. What once was a government regulated program has now been taken over by private industries allowing the average person to experience what only astronauts did.
“Today marks another important step along the road to opening space for everyone,” Branson said. “From this hangar, the talented team at The Spaceship Co. will be at the forefront of making space access safe, reliable and affordable.”
The commercial version of SpaceShipTwo will have room for 6 passengers and two pilots and will launch from a custom built spaceport in New Mexico. At take-off, the space plane will be attached to the wings of a White Knight carrier aircraft that will fly to 50,000 feet before it is released. The SpaceShipTwo’s engine will then ignite propelling it into sub orbit. While at suborbital altitude, the passengers will experience weightlessness and be able to see the curvature of the Earth. Tickets cost around $200,000 and Virgin Galactic already has over 400 reservations for their flights. Although no specific date has been set, Virgin Galactic hopes to launch the first commercial space flight sometime next year.