Virgin Galactic searching for profits outside of space tourism


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Not a surprise: After almost two decades of development and no commercial suborbital tourism flights, the new management of Virgin Galactic (with Richard Branson having sold off his majority shares) is now searching for other ways to make money with its assets.

Among them, renting out the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) launch support aircraft for government or private businesses to use for science, research, and national security applications. There’s just one problem: Legally it cannot do that.

Because WhiteKnightTwo is considered an experimental aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration using it in this manner would be a violation of 14 CFR 91.319(a)(2), which states that “no person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate – (1) For other than the purpose for which the certificate was issued; or (2) Carrying persons or property for compensation or hire.” In a filing made Tuesday The Space Company and Virgin Galactic jointly petitioned for exemption from the regulations.

It appears the new management is recognizing that the suborbital tourism market is weak (with the coming of orbital tourism), and needs to shift gears, any way it can.

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8 comments

  • Joe

    Sub-orbital tourism had such promise. But now it looks as if the orbital game will take over, even though you need to be an order of magnitude richer to play. lot of sub-orbital science will not be done as well.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Joe, I would be interested in some examples of the sub-orbital science that you anticipated being done. I am not arguing against it, just admitting I haven’t given a lot of thought to the subject, and nothing pops to mind when I do now.

  • Tom

    When you only need one to five minutes of micro-gravity for an experiment and you want the resulst back in a few hours, the sub-orbital approach has much appeal. Putting the same package on an orbital ship adds significant time, cost, and preparations.

    Tom

  • Edward

    Ray Van Dune,
    You wrote: “I would be interested in some examples of the sub-orbital science that you anticipated being done.

    I worked in a solar astrophysics lab which sent up an X-ray telescope on many suborbital flights from White Sands, New Mexico, to photograph the sun. This ended when the parachute failed to open on one flight, but the department shifted to orbital telescopes, which were finally being financed in order to get continuous coverage, especially for space weather.

    In addition, Blue Origin notes some of its payloads:
    https://www.blueorigin.com/news/new-shepard-to-fly-9-nasa-sponsored-payloads-to-space-on-ns-10

    https://www.blueorigin.com/news/payload-manifest-on-mission-9

    In addition to the seven or so decades of sounding rockets from White Sands, Wallops Island, Virginia, is another place that has been flying experiments for three quarters of a century. These sounding rockets have never gained much attention or excitement in the press or among the public.

  • pzatchok

    The best place for VG and all its ships is a museum someplace.

    Everything they own, except the 747 Cosmic girl, is an experimental ship and proven dangerous.

    The whole experiment was a waste of time and money driven by ego to a point long after it should have been humanely terminated.

  • mpthompson

    I agree with pzatchok, sometimes you have to know when to quit.

    Virgin Galactic had their chance and couldn’t deliver. Time to move on.

  • To all: Richard Branson has moved on, most cleverly. He has sold off his stock in Virgin Galactic for a nice profit, and is no longer concerned much where the company goes. What a con artist.

  • David M. Cook

    Branson is also a very big leftist who wants to tell poor people what they can & cannot do. Of course, he‘s not bound by the same constraints! Laws don‘t apply to leftist/socialists.

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