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Sir Richard takes Virgin into Space 158

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the blasting-off dept.
quizdog writes "The latest issue of Wired has a story on Sir Richard Branson and the history of the Virgin Empire, focusing on his latest venture of partnering with Scaled Composites and Burt Rutan to bring the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne hybrid rocket technology to the point where paying passengers can slip those 'surly bonds' of the atmosphere. Starting at just $200,000 a pop - any chance of a volume discount?" We first mentioned this a while back, but Wired's coverage is nice to see as well.
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Sir Richard takes Virgin into Space

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  • Article text (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Rocket Man

    Richard Branson conquered the world. Now he wants to fly you to space.

    By Spencer Reiss


    One lightly frozen billionaire has just climbed down from the port wing of a Virgin Atlantic 747 parked at the edge of a runway at Mojave Airport. It's a blustery gray morning in California's southern desert, and Virgin in chief Richard Branson has spent more than an hour standing in the wind, waiting to tape the opening sequence of his new reality show, Rebel Billionaire. The jet's not going anywhere, eith
    • Do they take air miles?
    • He spots a stodgy, old-line industry, rolls out the Virgin logo, sprinkles some camera-catching glitter, and poof - another moneymaker. While that formula has kept him in champagne and headlines, no Virgin business has ever changed the world.

      This is incorrect. Branson has always succeeded by taking a different approach to business from his fellow Brits, usually involving giving customers something they want.

      With his record business it was an eclectic mix of music that young people wanted to listen to

      • He also treats his staff well. They are worked hard and are by no means paid the best, however they like working at Virgin and for him.

        When they see him getting up to his gimmicks, they aren't resentful, they are amused. They know that Virgin is Branson's, that is both an asset and a liability - but he is getting the business in.

  • Booyah! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:12PM (#11315580)
    Does this make him a member of the 600-mile high club?
  • If only... (Score:4, Funny)

    by dutt (738848) on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:13PM (#11315585) Homepage
    If only Branson would take a virgin into space... what bliss.
  • Virgin? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    anyone else besides me take a double-take at that article title?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:13PM (#11315588)
    ...any chance of a volume discount?

    No, fatass -- in fact, you're gonna have to pay extra.

  • by earthforce_1 (454968) <earthforce_1@yah[ ]com ['oo.' in gap]> on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:13PM (#11315589) Journal
    Sounds like a promising XXX title. :)
  • by thegoofy (301855) on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:13PM (#11315591)
    No, Slashdotters... he didn't take one of YOU into space... they are referring to a company in the article.
  • by coug_ (63333)
    [i]Sir Richard takes Virgin into Space[/i]

    Where did he find manage to find a real Virgin?

    Thanks... I'll be here all week.

  • by fenodyree (802102) on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:14PM (#11315599)
    I thought: Gee, I wish I was that lucky geek!
  • to comment on one of the most unintentionally funny/"don't editors look at these things before posting" moments on ./ I've seen in a while. Bravo.
  • by UnCivil Liberty (786163) * on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:16PM (#11315623)
    And on that note let the bad sex jokes begin...
  • Now, when are they gonna cut the novelty crap and make it into a viable transportation alternative? At $200K a pop, that's one hell of a business expense. How much does coach cost?
    • by eln (21727) on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:21PM (#11315665) Homepage
      Coach only costs $50k, but you have to sit on the outside of the spacecraft.
    • That's a good point. Suborbital craft aren't really all that special; if one designed suborbital transportation craft instead of a joyride, it might actually be economical for long distances.

      Of course, you'd probably want either carry-launch, tow-launch, or a joint jet/rocket hybrid (in such a case, you'd probably be burning kerosene or rp1 in your rocket so you can use the same fuel for your engines without having to reinvent them). Too much of your energy will be expended while in the atmosphere if you
  • Humanity to spread to outer space, before cleaning up the mess it still has on planet Earth. Is it a case of running away from the problem, or spreading the problem to other planets and colonies in the solar system? Rumor has it that terrorist groups are also working on improving their technology so they can explode a satellite outside an geosynchronus nightclub or such.
  • How's he going to manage to get the whole corporation up there?
  • That's a bit pricey, even by commercial airline standards.

    So after the handful of people that are both rich & interested have taken the trip, what's Sir Richard going to do with his space travel business?
    • $200k isn't that much. No realy, it isn't. Just imagine how many rich people spend that kind of money on a second, third or n'th car.
    • So after the handful of people that are both rich & interested have taken the trip, what's Sir Richard going to do with his space travel business?

      He's going to use the profits from the early adopters to reduce the price, and develop a much larger target market.
  • a stor?

    What's a "stor" ?

    Oh, did you mean STORY?

    Also, why does Slashdot report on every issue of Wired? If you want to read Wired, then get a subscription!
    • I remember reading my copy right around Christmas time. Talk about old coverage of "news". Maybe we can get more up to date news. I don't understand why Wired stories make Slashdot.
  • Space Virgins (Score:2, Interesting)

    by richman555 (675100)
    I don't know, but has anyone ever had sex in space before? I think if that is the case we are all virgins in uncharted territory he,he.. Is anyone willing to go where no man has gone before???
  • by IdleTime (561841) on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:24PM (#11315703) Journal
    Going into space has been a dream since I was watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969.

    Paying $200.000 for a trip that has been my dream for over 30 years is cheap, esp compared to the $20.000.000 pricetag for the Russian trip to the space station. it's a bargain and I want one, Seriously!
  • ok go ahead and mark this off topic but what gives with slashdot every month running the majority of the latest wired mag here too? Does /. get paid for it? Wouldn't it be easier to have one post a month 'go look at wired.com before we post all their stories here'
    • Well if you're gonna go there, check the # of NY Times articles. All that reg. horseshit aside, I've usually read this stuff in AP News or the NY Times way before it gets through Slashdot. This is not unusual though, there's a lot of cross-feeding in that biz.

      It's the sparkling commentary we're here for. :-)
  • ...And back to his homeworld ...where he will use her to breed an army of half-men / half-Bransons to enslave Earth. Mwah hah hah haaaah... ...er, sorry...
  • Oddly enough that company appears to have no revenue.....
  • a little old? I mean I got this issue a while back. Why the wait slashdot?
  • Boooooring (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101&gmail,com> on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:36PM (#11315788) Homepage Journal
    Just feel the need to point out once again that this is not space travel, as far as I'm concerned.

    Space travel is controlled space travel. That means travelling into space, establishing a controlled orbit, and then a controlled descent back to earth. That's space travel.

    The Wright Brother's big advance was controlled, powered flight. Lots of people could shoot a projectile from one end of the field to the other, which is all (effectively) that was accomplished by Burt Rutan.

    I don't want to be a big, wet blanket here, and I don't want to say nothing has been accomplished; it was a necessary first step. But it ain't space travel. Orbital insertions are two orders of magnitude harder.

    I don't want marketing, I want real space travel, and that requires being a little harsh on all the marketing that surrounds this.

    • Re:Boooooring (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by QuantumG (50515)
      It's more than you did.
      • And your point is what? That I'm not allowed to point out that this is more marketing than space travel because I haven't personally built my own rocket ship?

        Does that mean I can't criticize Microsoft unless I've personally built my own multi-billion dollar operating system company?

        • No, it means you need to show a little respect to the people who set out to make it possible for you (an assumably normal person) to fly into space, however briefly. It also means that you need to support these individuals so that they may make bigger and better rocket ships so that they can some day put you into an orbit. Complaining that they havn't done everything you want in one step when you freely admit that it's a damn hard thing to do and have done absolutely nothing yourself is just counterproduc
          • No, it means you need to show a little respect to the people who set out to make it possible for you (an assumably normal person) to fly into space, however briefly.
            "I'm not a hen, but I can tell a good omelette from a bad one better than any hen in the world." - Anon.
            • It's 1972. Intel has just released the 8008 microprocessor. Hobbiests and small electronics companies are struggling to sell "microcomputers" based on the new chip. It's up to you, do you buy one of these microcomputers, even though they're not as powerful as a "minicomputer", which btw, is something you can't afford anyway, or do you just complain loudly that microcomputers are useless and not really computers?

              Fast forward to 1979. Apple is making a killing with their Apple I and the soon to be announ

              • It's 1972. Intel has just released the 8008 microprocessor. Hobbiests and small electronics companies are struggling to sell "microcomputers" based on the new chip. It's up to you, do you buy one of these microcomputers, even though they're not as powerful as a "minicomputer", which btw, is something you can't afford anyway, or do you just complain loudly that microcomputers are useless and not really computers?

                That'd be great... if this was the equivalent of an 8008. Which it's not.

                It's the equivalent

    • Re:Boooooring (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Telastyn (206146)
      No offense to you, or the Brothers, but from everything I've read of that "flight" it wasn't much different from shooting Rutan's bird in a large arc...

      Things will improve, in a fairly similar way I'd imagine.
      • I would agree with you except for one point: They continued and progressed and made it better and reasonable. As a result, if you have to mark a point at the start of the science of flight, you have to say that was a pivotal moment, no matter if the actual flight itself wasn't exactly the best. It proved the idea, which is what the X-Prize was made to do. Now is when the fun REALLY begins.
    • I don't know about that. I'm not sure I'd want my trip to be as dull and controlled as a trip on a 747. These days when you fly somewhere it's about the destination, not about the trip.

      Personally I think sitting on the top of a big rocket type thing sounds pretty exciting as travel for travels sake goes. As long as I had a few moments to look down at the earth from a long way away then I think I'd find the destination worthwhile too.

      I want real space travel, and that requires being a little harsh on all th

    • That is part of my complaint about how the X-Prize foundation is treating this accomplishment by scaled composites: They have decided to turn the X-Prize into something like NASCAR... very artificial and only having very indirect relationships with the actual vehicles that they proportedly help to advance.

      Like NASCAR, they will be advancing things like engine performance and safety, but the goals are for things that people will not be using in everyday life.

      When the X-Prize was first announced, it was li
    • Controlled space travel, like with a HAL computer? Forget about it. Go first. I've seen the movie :)
    • Re:Boooooring (Score:4, Insightful)

      by brucehoult (148138) on Monday January 10, 2005 @09:07PM (#11316546)
      Orbital insertions are two orders of magnitude harder.

      No, orbital insertions require nearly 10 times the speed (or 100 times more energy). That doesn't mean that they are 100 times harder, and certainly not 100 times more expensive.

      Getting out of the atmosphere is the hard part. Once you're in vacuum all you need to do is burn more fuel, for longer. That's easy, and fuel is cheap. And manage the reentry, which we also know how to do.

      Yes, this is jus a first step, but it's a lot further towards going orbital than you seem to think.

      And once you're in orbit ... you're halfway to *anywhere* :-)

      The Wright Brother's big advance was controlled, powered flight.

      Actually, it was mostly the "controlled" part. They flew gliders before they flew powered aircraft, and they went back to gliders afterwards and had ten and thirty minute glider flights before they ever flew for that long in a powered aircraft.

      One of Burt Rutan's big accomplishments with SS1 is in fact a way to safely control the reentry with the "feathering" tail.
      • There are a few errors in your post...

        No, orbital insertions require nearly 10 times the speed (or 100 times more energy).

        It requires a bit more than 7 times the speed (mach 22 versus 3), which is 50 times the kinetic energy.

        That doesn't mean that they are 100 times harder, and certainly not 100 times more expensive.

        True, it's much harder. Exponentially so, according to the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation. With Space Ship One's exhaust velocity of 2.5 km/s, getting to Mach 3 requires that your

    • You say. "Space travel is controlled space travel"

      I say: no. "Space travel is space travel" and "Controlled space travel is controlled space travel". Since when did you get chosen to define the semantics ? ;)

      And second, I would bet that if you had the chance of being in one of these trips, you wouldn't come back without beeing moved by the event. It must be f*cking impressive. Maybe in 150 years our grand-grand children will have to take the space driving license. In the mean time, according to our times,
    • I don't want to be a big, wet blanket here, and I don't want to say nothing has been accomplished; it was a necessary first step. But it ain't space travel. Orbital insertions are two orders of magnitude harder.

      Exactly. Let me summarize, people.

      Step 1. Take a Virgin into space.
      Step 2. Orbital insertion.
      Step 3. PROFIT!!!
    • Re:Boooooring (Score:3, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935)
      I don't want marketing, I want real space travel, and that requires being a little harsh on all the marketing that surrounds this.

      How would you define "real space travel"?

      Judging by the cockpit view [scaled.com], this sure seems like space travel as far as I'm concerned.

      The Wright Brother's big advance was controlled, powered flight. Lots of people could shoot a projectile from one end of the field to the other, which is all (effectively) that was accomplished by Burt Rutan.

      SpaceShipOne is equipped with (and make
  • >'surly bonds' of the atmosphere

    1. I think the biggest bond to the planet is gravity, not friction.

    2. Why would the "bonds" be described [bartleby.com] as sullen ill-humored, threatening, or arrogant?
    • Poetry.

      High Flight
      by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

      Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
      And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
      Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
      Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
      You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung
      High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
      I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
      My eager craft through footless halls of air.
      Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
      I've topped the windswept heights with ea

    • Surly is one of the Seven Duffs. Thus, "Surly bonds" is clearly a subtle reference to drunken S&M games like those shown in the episode "Marge's Little Dungeon of Horror" from the bootleg Simpsons Director's Cut that's currently making the rounds on Kazaa.
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:39PM (#11315821) Journal
    From the article:

    But look at the upside. The total price tag [for Virgin Galactic] is half the cost of a single Airbus A340-600 - and Virgin Atlantic ordered 26 of those last summer. In return, Branson gets bragging rights to one of the cooler breakthroughs of the early 21st century, with rocket-powered marketing opportunities that could fuel excitement - and sales - in his entire 200-company holding group.

    People often complain about how much stuff like this supposedly costs, but it's interesting to see what a small amount it is compared to how much is typically thrown around in the airline industry. The marketing value alone is probably worth the cost of the fleet.
    • by Rei (128717)
      Yeah, and with good maintainance you'll get ~40,000 takeoff and landing cycles with that A340-600, and it usually carries around 380 passengers. You do the math.

      The article is right, though - look at all the exposure it's gotten Virgin on Slashdot alone ;) All he did was fund a small venture with relatively moderate accomplishments, and he gets two articles a week for the next two years. ;)
      • Yeah, and with good maintainance you'll get ~40,000 takeoff and landing cycles with that A340-600, and it usually carries around 380 passengers. You do the math.

        In all fairness, since it's so early in the game Branson is also paying for a large chunk of the development costs per unit. I can't find stats for the A340-600, but it looks like the A380 has cost around $10.7 billion so far. Of course, this is still very much an apples-and-oranges comparison.

        In terms of capacities, it's possible that a marginal
    • To be pedantic, Branson doesn't pony up for those jets. A leasing company actually buys the jets from Airbus, via bank funding. The leasing company then leases the jets to Virgin Atlantic for a set time. Virgin doesn't actually own any of its aircraft.
  • by stor (146442) * on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:39PM (#11315831)
    ...but Slashdot has the original

    Cheers
    Stor
  • by artifex2004 (766107) on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:45PM (#11315891) Journal
    I really wish /. would make a section just for Wired article reposting, so those of us who read them already can ignore these when they dribble out a couple weeks after we get them via snail mail.
  • WTF (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 10, 2005 @07:46PM (#11315900)
    Sounds like a bad Japanese Hentai Title: "Sir Richard takes a virgin 3"
  • by mOoZik (698544) on Monday January 10, 2005 @08:00PM (#11316018) Homepage
    VIRGINS in space, from the BLASTING OFF department? Hah!

  • I saw on Branson's (failure of a ) reality show that the contestants made commercials for Virgin Galactic, but I have yet to see them on TV. I think he thought they were too horrible to use, or perhaps didn't want to spend the money and considered his reality show to be, essentially, a free commercial.
  • I'm just wondering how many referrals you'd need for his obviously upcoming "FreeVirgin.com"...

    Wait a second...

    ---

    Watch me prove I'm clueless here [blogspot.com]

  • Sir Richard Branson has his way with virgin in space! How vile! I thought knights were supposed to protect maidens!
  • better get super miles for my mileage card...or a free "escort" service with that $200k price tag.
  • BA wouldn't sell him all the concordes, he didn't fly round the world in his balloon, so he had to go one better and fly into space, typical.
  • That is what firefox said...
  • "Dick takes Virgin into Space" ...or at least it should have made use of the nickname for Richard. :)
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Monday January 10, 2005 @10:25PM (#11317030) Journal
    In December, Inc. Magazine also selected Burt Rutan as Entrepreneur of the Year [inc.com]. The article is a very good read, and gives a lot of details about Rutan's management style.

    A snippet:

    As a manager, Rutan has proven intuitively adept at inspiring loyalty and extraordinary work. He doesn't worry so much about the formal background of the engineers he hires. He looks for people who share his passion for aircraft design and gives those who have it free rein. Instead of the specialists sought by aerospace companies, he encourages his staffers to remain generalists who can design anything from a fuselage to a door handle and then go into the shop and build it. Chief engineer Matthew Gionta recalls starting off at the company right out of graduate school in 1994 and being handed the project-leader slot on an ultra-high-tech unmanned aircraft. "What I had to learn on the job made my formal education pale in comparison, but I had to learn it because no one else was going to do it for me," Gionta says. "The stress took years off my life, but when you get that kind of responsibility, it's hard not to feel ownership."

    Rutan is loath to codify his approach to managing. "I don't like rules," he says. "Things are so easy to change if you don't write them down." But one way or another, he has communicated a few simple principles to employees. One is that when it comes to safety issues -- and in aircraft design, almost everything is a safety issue -- everyone should be quick to raise questions. Rutan makes sure that when people at Scaled point out their own mistakes, they're applauded rather than reprimanded. And instead of extensively analyzing a design before building it, a notion that's axiomatic in the aerospace industry, Rutan pushes his people to get a first version built quickly, test it, and fix it. Says Gionta: "Testing leads to failure, and failure leads to understanding."
    • Rutan makes sure that when people at Scaled point out their own mistakes, they're applauded rather than reprimanded. I would hate that he didn't build Scaled, but he sounds like the kind of guy who they should have had to run the shuttle programme.
  • Yipee! it must be time for another issue of Wired!

    It must be because the damn lazy editors of slashdot have posted at least 3 stories from wired in the few couple days.

  • by null-sRc (593143)
    a slashdot member in space! who would have thought they would pass the physical endurance tests?!
  • Seriously, who comes up with this stuff? Nerd who never get laid or something?
  • High Flight
    by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

    Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
    I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air.
    Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
    I've topped the windswept heights with eas

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