Virgin Galactic is a British commercial spaceflight company within the Virgin Group with ambitious plans to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists, suborbital launches for space science missions, and orbital launches of small satellites. Further in the future, Virgin Galactic hopes to offer orbital human spaceflights as well. Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft is air launched from a ‘buddy’ aeroplane.
The White Knight Two is a special airplane built as the mother ship and launch-platform for the spacecraft SpaceShipTwo and the unmanned launch vehicle LauncherOne. The mother ship is a large fixed-wing aircraft with two hulls linked together by a central wing.
Potential collaboration with NASA
In February 2007, Virgin announced that they had signed a memorandum of understanding with NASA to explore the potential for collaboration, but, to date, this has produced only a very small contract in 2011 of up to $4.5 million for research flights.
After a claimed investment by Virgin Group of US$100 million, in 2010 the sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi, Aabar Investments group, acquired a 31.8% stake in Virgin Galactic forUS$280 million, receiving exclusive regional rights to launch tourism and scientific research space flights from the United Arab Emirates capital. In July 2011, Aabar invested a furtherUS$100 million to develop a program to launch small satellites into low Earth orbit, raising their equity share to 37.8%. Virgin announced in June 2014 that they were in talks with Google about the injection of capital to funding both development and operations. The New Mexico government has invested approaching $200m (£121m) in the Spaceport America facility.