White Knight Two will be used to fly Virgin Galactic's six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of about 50,000 feet, where it will be released for an independent rocket ride beyond the atmosphere. Passengers, who will pay about $250,000 to fly, will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see Earth set against the blackness of space from an altitude of about 62 miles, or 100 kilometers.
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Paul Allen has a different market in mind. In an exclusive interview, Chuck Beames, who oversees Allen's space projects as president of Vulcan Aerospace, now says that flying paying passengers was never in the cards.
"There's no intention for any kind of space tourism ... That is not in our plan today," Beames said.
Instead, Vulcan Aerospace intends to make money by delivering a variety of satellites into orbit, with particular emphasis on the planned low-Earth orbiting constellations designed to provide global Internet services, imagery, climate data and other remote sensing services.
Beames didn't rule out human spaceflight entirely, but said that passengers would be limited to test pilots and researchers.
Exactly how people or payloads will make it into orbit after being ferried into the sky by the Stratolaunch plane has not yet been announced.
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Initially, Stratolaunch sized the massive aircraft so that a version of SpaceX's Falcon rocket could loft mid-sized satellites into orbit. When that arrangement fell through, Stratolaunch turned to Orbital Sciences, now known as Orbital ATK, for a booster rocket.
Stratolaunch also mulled flying a scaled-down version of Sierra Nevada's winged Dream Chaser spaceplane. That plan, said Beames, is "on hold at best."