By Sarah Townsend
Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism venture suffered setback last year after fatal test flight
Virgin Galactic is in talks to buy a second aircraft for its fledgling space tourism venture, according to a report by the Flightglobal website.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which is backed by Abu Dhabi, plans to take paying members of the public into space in its SpaceShipTwo (SS2) carrier craft.
Over the past 12 months the company has been building and testing a new copy of the SS2 design after the first one crashed during a test flight in California last year, killing one crew member and injuring the other.
The new ‘LauncherOne’ rocket is reportedly capable of lifting up to 200kg to the 600-800km Earth orbits standard for scientific missions, or up to 400kg to lower Earth orbits.
SS2, by comparison, could only lift up to 120kg and 250kg respectively for each type of flight.
Virgin Galactic expects to test fly LauncherOne by mid 2017.
Flight Global news website has reported that, meanwhile, the company is in talks to buy a second aircraft for commercial space flights, in an attempt to double payload capacity.
Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides told the website the company was seeking to buy a new aircraft to increase the number of passengers it can take into space. SS2 and LauncherOne are designed to carry just six people at any given time.
Whitesides reportedly declined to reveal what sort of aircraft the company intends to buy.
Virgin Galactic’s customer relations president Stephen Attenborough told Virgin Galactic ticket-holders in New York last week that the replacement SS2 is nearly complete and test flights are to commence in 2016.
Attenborough also said Branson still plans to be aboard the first commercial space flight, according to local media.
The independent review of last year’s fatal accident concluded it was caused by pilot error.
The US’ National Transportation Safety Board found that the co-pilot triggered the ‘feathering’ mechanism too soon – a crucial control that slows down the craft.
At the time Virgin Galactic blamed responsibility for the mid-air crash on the contractor performing the testing.