Photo by Michele
Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny and Sir Richard Branson announce
Tuesday a business venture to further fund the WK2 program.
July 28, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - It
was a busy and productive afternoon for the Virgin Galactic team and
WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this afternoon.
With WK2 as the background on AeroShell
Square, Virgin Galactic announced and signed a major investment deal just
before WK2 made its first public demonstration flight-a circuit made
carrying Virgin Group CEO Sir Richard Branson on his first flight in the
As Sir Richard alighted from WK2 he was
asked how he felt about the flight: "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!
How did it look from down here?"
And the important question for any pilot
was, "How does it fly?"
"It flies just beautifully," said
Sir Richard. "The feel and handling is fantastic."
"You would be surprised an aircraft
shaped like that can fly so beautifully," he continued. "One of
the loveliest…It's wonderful!
"I could see all of you guys down
here, and one day we'll be able to see the Earth very clearly from the
Prior to the flight Virgin Galactic
President Will Whitehorn began the proceedings by announcing that the
company reached an agreement for Abu Dhabi-based investment group Aabar to
buy a major stake in Virgin Galactic. That deal includes funds to develop
a satellite launch capability for the system and the creation of a
spaceport in Abu Dhabi.
Whitehorn then introduced Sir Richard and
Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny to sign the agreement.
Under the agreement's terms, Aabar will
invest $280 million and take a 32 percent stake in Virgin Galactic, and
will commit an additional $100 million to develop a satellite launch
capability for WK2.
After the signing Al-Husseiny said Aabar
was committed to investments that "provide a lot of benefits"
for not only Aabar but also Abu Dhabi. Sir Richard spoke of the emirate's
"incredible vision to bring Abu Dhabi into a country of the
Burt Rutan, whose Scaled Composites of
Mojave, California, developed the launch system, then joined the pair on
But he explained he would keep his remarks
briefs because due to a strong crosswind, WK2 would take off from Runway
27 instead of the 18-36 primary runway-and that would add considerably to
"I know they're itching to get
going," Rutan quipped.
"The last time we were in hot air
balloons, and we kept ending up in the sea," said Sir Richard,
alluding to global circumnavigation efforts he previously funded and flew,
"and I'm glad there's no water here."
But Sir Richard and the crowd enjoyed a
good laugh when Rutan reminded him of the presence of nearby Lake
As Sir Richard boarded WK2, Whitehorn
provided more details of the new agreement and plans for Virgin Galactic's
civilian space flights.
"We're committed to a satellite launch
system," Whitehorn said.
He noted that WK2 was designed to carry
rocket-launch vehicles capable of putting into orbit satellites of up to
200 kilograms-and at much lower costs than current launch
technologies-opening space to a new range of satellite applications.
The company's current funding, however,
supports only its first objective, offering civilians suborbital flights.
The Aabar investment will allow Virgin Galactic to begin developing its
satellite launch capability.
"It's wonderful. Abu Dhabi has put
their trust in us," said Sir Richard. "Their investment will
enable us to speed up the program and be able to put satellites into space
as well as people into space at a fraction of the cost that people have
been able to put them up in the past-in a very environmentally friendly
"They're going to build a beautiful
spaceport in the Middle East, and they will have a spaceport there as well
as a spaceport here in America, so altogether a day almost too untrue to
be real. It's been great."
The price of the satellite launches will be
less than $2 million, according to Whitehorn, and development of the
system is expected to take three years.
The agreement also gives Aabar exclusive
rights to space launches in the Middle East region from the planned Abu
Dhabi launch complex, a facility not expected to become operative before
Whitehorn also reported Virgin Galactic has
deposits for space flight tickets from more than 300 prospective civilian
astronauts totaling $40 million.
SpaceShipTwo, which will be carried aloft
by WK2 and released to rocket upward to altitudes of 110-130 kilometers,
is scheduled for its first test fight this December; the first flight to
the edge of space with paying passengers is expected within 24 months.
The twin boom/cabin WK2 will carry six
passengers in its right cabin, and will carry NOAA scientific instruments
in the left cabin.
Meanwhile, Sir Richard seems confident in
the future of his space enterprise.
"Look, I never actually think about
the investments I do. I think about creating things I can be proud of, and
I think generally if you can create something you can be proud of, it's
likely to be successful, and I think there are so many millions and
millions of people that would love the chance to go into space, and it
needed private enterprise to make that possible."
He continued, "I just had the most
privileged voyage. I'm very lucky to be the first person to go up in it
and experience this wonderful new machine, magnificent machine. And to be
the first of many, many voyages.
"One day it will be doing its job of
taking the spaceship up and sending it up into space."
And to think it started partly from the
influence of EAA, AirVenture, and the Oshkosh experience.
"Oshkosh is the best air show in the
world, and it's wonderful to be here," Sir Richard said.