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Virgin Galactic + NASA = Spaceplane

By Evan Ackerman

Virgin Galactic Spaceplane

Virgin Galactic, the company that successfully launched SpaceShipOne (with Scaled Composites) and is working on SpaceShipTwo (for which you can now book a 2009 flight at $200,000 a person, round trip of course), has entered into a joint venture of sorts with NASA to develop hypersonic commercial transport technology. Hypersonic generally refers to speeds of Mach 5+, or 3,500 – 4,000ish mph depending on altitude. That’s potentially London to New York in under an hour.

Virgin readily admits that hypersonic research isn’t something they’re cut out for. NASA, however, has already successfully tested their hypersonic scramjet powered X-43A up to Mach 10, and are working on expanding the program with hypersonic vehicles like the X-43B (concept shown above) and the X-51A. So in a nutshell (from the COO of Virgin Galactic): “We are interested in possibly paying for it. NASA is interested in researching it.”

As a past (and let’s hope, future) beneficiary of NASA grant money, I can say from experience that while NASA has the will, when it comes to the way, they’re notoriously stingy with research funding. Here’s hoping for my own corporate sponsor… Any British billionaires out there interested in Martian impact cratering?

VIA [ National Geographic News ]