Virgin Galactic is a British company established by Richard Branson's Virgin Group which is the world's first private spaceline. It is playing a leading role in developing space tourism and low-cost access to space for both passengers and payload.
Virgin Galactic owns and operates privately-built passenger-carrying spacecraft, modeled on Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, winner of the Ansari X prize. In July 2012, it also announced that it was also developing a low-cost satellite launcher, called LauncherOne.
Access to space for all (with $200,000 to spare)
Virgin Galactic's first commercial, suborbital craft – SpaceShipTwo – has eight seats, allowing room for two pilots and six passengers. Construction at Rutan's firm Scaled Composites in Mojave, California, began in March 2006. A series of so-far successful gliding tests began in 2012, and the first commercial flight is expected to take place in late 2013. More than 500 people have already paid their deposits and reserved a seat. They include a woman in her nineties (who learned to skydive when she was 85).
New Mexico Spaceport
One of the launch sites for the Virgin Galactic spaceship will be a spaceport in New Mexico, called Spaceport America, built on 27 square miles (70 square kilometers) of state-owned land. Virgin Galactic will be the spaceport's primary but not sole tenant. New Mexico already has agreements in place to host an annual private spaceflight exhibition – the Rocket Racing League – billed as a follow-on to the $10 million Ansari X prize. In addition, two start-up commercial space firms, UP Aerospace and StarChaser Industries have set up shop in the southern state. The region has an 4,700-foot (1,433-meter) elevation, which will saves on the amount of jet fuel needed to get the spacecraft to the proper altitude for launch.
In 2007, Virgin announced it would use a spaceport in Sweden as one of the launch sites for its commercial space flights. The company is also eyeing several other locations, including a site near Barcelona, Spain.