Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Richard Branson: Galactic spaceship to blast off in 2013

Virgin boss Richard Branson unveiled plans for LauncherOne, Virgin Galactic's new small, low-cost satellite launcher Wednesday. Virgin boss Richard Branson unveiled plans for LauncherOne, Virgin Galactic's new small, low-cost satellite launcher Wednesday.
Virgin Galactic announcement
Branson unveils LauncherOne
Soon to set off into space
SpaceShip Two will take off in 2013
Deposits down, travelers get ready
Test pilot David Mackay
Branson Farnborough press
  • Branson confirms rumors the first Virgin Galactic space tourists will take off in 2013
  • Chief executive George Whitesides says 529 aspiring astronauts have paid deposits
  • Branson also unveiled plans for new satellite service LauncherOne

Follow CNN's coverage of the Farnborough Airshow through the week.

Farnborough, England (CNN) -- Virgin chief Richard Branson has put a time frame on his plan to launch tourists into space, claiming he and his family will blaze a trail for hundreds of fare-paying passengers by blasting off in December 2013.

Branson also announced that Virgin Galactic, his fledgling commercial space company, was expanding to include a satellite-launching service that would use a low-cost rocket system to propel payloads into orbit.

Speaking at the UK's Farnborough International Airshow, the British entrepreneur said his adult children, Holly and Sam, would accompany him on board the SpaceShipTwo on its pioneering two-hour voyage into sub-orbital space.

Virgin Galactic's journey into space
Virgin Galactic's journey into space

"It'll certainly be the most momentous moment of my life and my children's lives," Branson told CNN. "It'll be very difficult to ever cap it I think. Anyone who has ever been into space says the same thing."

Virgin Boss Richard Branson announces on Wednesday that SpaceShipTwo will blast off with its first space tourists in 2013. Virgin Boss Richard Branson announces on Wednesday that SpaceShipTwo will blast off with its first space tourists in 2013.
SpaceShipTwo will blast off in 2013
Farnborough 2012 takes off Farnborough 2012 takes off

See also: Farnborough 2012 in pictures

Some 529 would-be astronauts, including celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher, have so far signed up for $200,000-a-seat flights which will last two hours.

Virgin executives said the figure was a milestone as it exceeds the existing number of space veterans. Six hundred are expected to fly in the first two years of service.

Launched from a carrier vessel known as WhiteKnightTwo, Virgin Galactic's space ship can carry two pilots and six passengers. SpaceShipTwo is currently undergoing testing in the Mojave Desert in California, although a replica was on display at Farnborough.

Branson acknowledged the existing price tag means that his goal of opening space travel up to ordinary people was some way off. He insisted, however, that it would drop over the next few decades as Virgin's space ambitions went further.

"The initial flights will be sub-orbital, which will give people a taste of space," he said. "From there we'll go into orbital flights and maybe one day hotels in space."

Outlining details of his new satellite service, LauncherOne, Branson said the two-stage rocket would also be carried into launching position by WhiteKnightTwo.

Infographic: State of global aviation

He said the service, capable of launching 500-pound payloads, would drastically reduce the cost of putting satellites into orbit. This, he said would open up the market to researchers, small businesses and even schools.

Several clients have already signed up for the service including Earth observation company GeoOptics and Planetary Resources, an asteroid mining company which counts Google founders Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, and movie director James Cameron as investors.

Virgin Galactic's commercial director Stephen Attenborough told CNN that the goal was to be able to offer a reliable satellite launch system for $10 million, a price tag he says undercuts existing services by up to 50%.

George Whitesides, the company's chief executive and president, said: "This will radically revolutionize the small satellite business in the way we have the space tourism business."

Read more: Rolls-Royce showcases jet engine made of Lego

But Branson insisted his chief aim was to open space to researchers studying the "global crisis" of climate change.

"In America you've got a lot of skeptics about global warming, what you need is the scientific evidence that it is there one way or the other," he said.

"The majority of scientists believe we have a problem, we need to know that conclusively and we need to work towards resolving it and I think LauncherOne will make it clear one way or the other, and sadly I think it'll be the other."

On the sidelines of Wednesday's announcement, Virgin Galactic officials offered more details of what customers can expect for their money.

Blog: Branson's busy bathroom break

Whitesides said astronauts on board SpaceShipTwo would experience a little less than five minutes of weightlessness, during which time they will be free to unclip their seat harnesses and float within the cabin.

"Some people will want to focus their time looking out of the vehicle, looking down at the planet or Milky Way, whereas others may want to do spins or tricks," Whitesides told CNN.

"The initial flights will be sub-orbital, which will give people a taste of space... Maybe one day hotels in space."
Richard Branson

"There's one guy who wants to assume a neutral position, close his eyes and get back to the womb.

"My big concern is getting people back to their seats. This is one of the central design considerations. My guess is it will be as simple as saying 'OK everybody; get back in your seats. Then gravity will kick in."

Branson, meanwhile, confessed he hadn't yet planned his time in space. "I'm sure we will do something but we haven't got that far thinking about it. If we're allowed to put up a flag up there... who knows?"

Quiz: Are you a plane geek? Test your aviation knowledge

Adam Wells, Virgin Galactic's head of design, said the cabin's interior was being kept as minimal as possible to reduce weight and maximize space for floating. There are unlikely to be comforts familiar to airline passengers. Television screens will probably be too heavy -- and there will be no toilet.

"The intent is to keep the volume as uncluttered as possible," he told CNN. "From an ideal standpoint we want everything, including the seats to disappear, which is a fascinating design challenge."

Among would-be astronauts attending Wednesday's announcement was Portuguese diplomat Angelo Araujo.

Some people will want to focus their time looking out of the vehicle, looking down at the planet or Milky Way, whereas others may want to do spins or tricks.
George Whitesides

Araujo, 62, described his journey into space as a "spiritual journey" during which he would pay homage to his late father, a poet and composer also called Angelo Araujo.

"As we age and we approach the end, we are part of the universe and I think it's wonderful to see it from another angle.

"I want to read some poetry from my father. He will be the first Portuguese poet to be read in space.

Perry Sporn, a jeweler from Burlington, Vermont, who will be among the first 500 to fly said the $200,000 price tag was money well spent.

"I was a poor kid but I had an amazing opportunity to be productive and make a good living, so to me it's a ridiculously small sum."

As Virgin Galactic's chief pilot, David Mackay is likely to helm the first flights and may even break records for space travel as he clocks up at least one voyage per week when the service is up and running.

"I'm not on some ego trip to enjoy the greatest number of space flights," he told CNN. "If it's successful, it will eventually become much more common and whatever record I set will quickly be broken."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Mon June 24, 2013
Is it a plane? Is it a drone? Next time you look up and see vapor trails spreading across the sky, bear in mind that the aircraft you're looking at might just be both.
updated 1:36 PM EDT, Fri June 21, 2013
Raytheon's JLENS aerostat is designed to carry out surveillance missions, hovering high in the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 30 days at a time.
Previously the airship was hailed as the future of flight: as glamorous, luxurious and fashionable. Is it the new dawn of the dirigible?
CNN's Richard Quest and Bryony Jones have been at the 50th International Airshow this week. Here's what they've seen and heard.
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Wed June 19, 2013
I am always being asked "'what makes the best airline?" Richard Quest reveals what airlines can do to become a frequent flyer favorite.
WWII fighter aircraft steal the show at the 2003 International Airshow in Paris.
From stunning aerial displays to solar flight, CNN flies through time with some of the show's best moments.
updated 5:36 AM EDT, Wed June 19, 2013
An A330-200 Airbus plane of Emirates airline at the Harare International Airport on February 1, 2012.
Emirates has been voted the world's best airline by passengers at the annual Skytrax World Airline Awards.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Tue June 18, 2013
File picture showing passengers about to board an Air France plane at Le Bourget, airport, North of Paris in 1946.
From Charles Lindbergh's record-breaking landing to solar flight, CNN takes a look back at the Paris Airshow's most memorable moments
updated 5:36 AM EDT, Wed June 12, 2013
The Patrouille de France acrobatic team performs a flying display at the Paris International Air Show on June 24, 2011 at Le Bourget, near Paris.
Hollywood's stars may have left Cannes, but the real "jet set" will descend upon Paris for the 50th International Air and Space show.
updated 9:20 AM EDT, Thu June 13, 2013
Aviation expert Tim Robinson looks at how the BRIC countries are entering the elite club of aerospace manufacturing.
updated 9:25 AM EDT, Thu June 13, 2013
air france plane flying
Are drones being used for pizza deliveries? When did the first commercial jet plane make its maiden voyage? Find out if you are a plane geek.
Police and military forces are increasingly reliant on unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out risky tasks. So just how easy is it to pilot one?
Supersonic aircraft are just like buses: You wait years for one, and then two come along at once: rival "son of supersonic" concepts have been revealed.
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri June 7, 2013
Some things you just know for a fact. First man on the moon: Neil Armstrong. First to achieve powered flight: Orville and Wilbur Wright. Or were they?
Aircraft maker Boeing and parts manufacturer Honeywell both flew planes to the 2011 Paris Airshow using a mixt of biofuels and jet fuel.
Pilot of a Sukhoi superjet 100 practices his flight presentation routine on June 11, 2009
See the full coverage, including all the aerial acrobatics and business buzz, of the 2013 international airshow at Le Bourget airfield in Paris.