At the Spaceport American runway dedication in October, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson surprised some people when he said that the company “is going to put forward proposals” for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program and “plan to start work on an orbital program quite quickly”. Today, Virgin confirmed its interest in orbital spaceflight, but those expecting a SpaceShipThree will be disappointed.
In a press release Virgin Galactic announced that it is teaming with Orbital Sciences Corporation and Sierra Nevada Corporation on their second round CCDev (CCDev-2) proposals. Rather than develop its own vehicle, for now Virgin Galactic will be content offering to sell seats on the vehicles those two companies have proposed developing, both lifting bodies launched vertically atop expendable launchers that glide to runway landings. Virgin, according to its statement, “believes [those vehicles] could revolutionize orbital space flight in much the same way that SpaceShipTwo has revolutionized sub-orbital space flight.” Virgin Galactic will also consider making available its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft to the companies during its testing phase.
Sierra Nevada is already developing its Dream Chaser vehicle, and is one of five companies with CCDev awards from NASA early this year. The company hasn’t yet separately announced its CCDev-2 proposal plans. Orbital Sciences announced earlier this week its proposal for a “blended lifting body” vehicle launched on an Atlas 5 or other rocket. Orbital did not name Virgin Galactic in its list of “major suppliers” in its release although Space News reported on the partnership earlier this week.