Space tourism meets the assembly line. In a joint venture between Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, a technology company based in Mojave, California, the world’s first spaceship factory is open for business. The Spaceship Company has completed the “68,000-square-foot LEED-certified building which will be primarily used to assemble, integrate and test SpaceShipTwo vehicles and their carrier WhiteKnight aircraft before they are delivered to customers, including Virgin Galactic.” There is enough room for workers to build two spaceships simultaneously.
What’s the Big Idea?
Virgin Galactic is the primary customer of the spaceships the Spaceship Company will build and the company is scheduled to begin commercial flights into low Earth orbit in 2012. It is a dramatic twist in the space travel story which, until now, has been dominated by government-funded projects. “Virgin’s spaceships are based on the prize-winning prototype SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 clinch the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first privately funded manned space flights.” The commercial version of the ship has room for six passengers and two pilots. A ticket currently costs $200,000; 500 have already been sold.