Since it’s founding in 2004, Virgin Galactic have been set on designing and operating spacecraft capable of suborbital flight. While the organisation has revealed and tested many concepts over the years, fully orbital spacecraft haven’t been at the forefront of their apparent goals.
Now – according to Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides – the company is partnering with NASA as part of a new contract, which will allow Virgin to privately hire and train astronauts for trips to the International Space Station. In Whitesides’ statement, he also mentions Vrigin Galactics orbital spaceflight program as “an unparalleled, personalised customer experience” suggesting that the company could be working on a new spacecraft capable of fully orbital flight.
Currently, Virgin Galactic’s flagship development is the SpaceShipTwo, a space plane launched from a larger carrier aircraft capable of suborbital flight. In late 2019 – following years of testing at various altitudes – the company announced plans to fly the SpaceShipTwo at a height of 100km. This would be a commercial endeavour likely open to the public, following the announcement that flights would be available for roughly $250,000.
While the future goals of Virgin Galactic are still unclear, a likely next step will be commercial orbital flights for those able to afford it.