Leave it to Sir Richard Branson to put on a show. A lavish unveiling was scheduled for SpaceShipTwo now known as Virgin Mothership (VMS) Eve carrying Virgin Space Ship (VSS) Enterprise. Unfortunately mother nature was not being co-operative with strong winds and a frigid night with even the possibility of snow. Leaving the theatrics behind after a roll-out of the VMS Eve carrying VSS Enterprise everyone, including some 800 strong media, celebs, customers and the like headed indoors for speeches and to mingle.
With over 300 people having already paid $200,000 a piece for a suborbital experience it appears Virgin Galactic will indeed begin commercial launch operations in 2011. Whether there is a viable long term business for Virgina Galactic remains to be seen. However the goal of the commercial tourist side of business is to get the cost down considerably and make it affordable for hundreds of thousands and some day millions of potential customers.
Aside from the commercial tourist side of business there could be other lucrative revenue sources ahead for the pioneering Branson and Rutan team. Opportunities for launching commercial satellites has drawn significant interest and could provide another revenue source along with interest from the military.
Canada currently only has one company that launches suborbital payloads and that’s Bristol Aerospace of Winnipeg. Their Black Brant sounding rocket however costs approximately $2 million per launch. It is unknown what a suborbital satellite launch would cost from Virgin Galactic but it is rumored to be significantly less. Aside from Bristol there currently is no other company in Canada with launch capability of any kind.
One company based out of Toronto is still trying to make a push for the suborbital market in Canada with space tourists as their primary revenue source. Brian Feeney, Chairman of the the DreamSpace group, which also owns the Da Vinci Project, hopes to have their XF1-A prototype unveiled sometime in 2010 after a lengthy delay and will be charging $100,000 for a suborbital experience.
To help companies enter and take advantage of the suborbital market comes a new conference called the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference organized primarily by the Universities Space Research Association, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and the Southwest Research Institute. The conference will be held February 18-20 in Boulder, Colorado.
While the suborbital market appears to be gaining momentum in the U.S. and elsewhere it appears Canada will remain on sidelines for now. The last Black Brant launch from Canadian soil was in 1998 for the Canadian Space Agency ACTIVE Ionosphere mission.
Update: On November 25th the The Canadian Space Agency released through the tendering agency MERX a request for proposal for “Indigenous Micro Satellite Launchers – A Strategic Analysis of the Market“. The purpose of the study is to gather sufficient information to support the decision concerning the development of an indigenous micro SATELLITE launch vehicle and the possible implementation models.