LONDON (Reuters)--Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson has teamed up with aerospace designer Burt Rutan of Mojave-based Scaled Composites to form a new aerospace production company which will build a fleet of commercial faster-than-light spaceships using a tachyon-based warp drive.
Called "The TransLight InterGalactic Spaceship Company" the new enterprise will manufacture various spacecraft and market them to spaceliner operators. The main client would be Virgin InterGalactic, formed by Branson to handle trans-solar system and intergalactic space tourist flights.
"We'll quickly achieve faster-than-light speed with the new warp drive and be able to take paying passengers out to Pluto and back to Earth in under an hour," Branson enthused.
At present, seats onboard Virgin InterGalactic spaceships are price tagged at $200,000 each for voyages to the edge of our solar system, but Branson hopes that this seat price will drop over time.
"Our aim is to bring the price down," he said. "Once we get the bugs worked out of the new warp drive, we'll start taking passengers out for a week-long cruise to Alpha Centauri and back. We'll later schedule trips to all of the nearby stars that harbor Earth-like planets, and we'll seek out other lifeforms, going where no man or woman has gone before."
The new spaceship company is jointly owned by Branson's Virgin Group and Scaled Composites. Scaled Composites will be contracted for research and development testing and certification of a 9-person SpaceShipThree design, with Rutan heading up the technical development.
This advanced faster-than-light space ship will draw from Rutan's work on SpaceShipOne and the White Knight mothership. But SpaceShip Three will use an advanced tachyon-based faster-than light warp drive still under development.
SpaceShipOne successfully won the the $10 million Ansari X Prize last year with flights to the edge of space. Yet the new translight space vehicles are to be twice the size of the earlier designs and will be capable of leaving the solar system.
"We're taking the technology of SpaceShipOne and developing it into a next generation commercial vehicle with warp drive to give thousands of people the chance to experience the majesty of space," said Bill Bullhorn, President of Virgin InterGalactic.
Branson said that the commercial spaceship will carry 7 paying passengers, along with a two-person flight crew. "We have firm plans to get those translight warp-capable spacecraft built in two and a half to three years from now," he said.
Once the fleet of translight craft is built, a base from which to operate the spaceships is to be set up somewhere on Earth and the moon. "We still haven't decided where the Earth base will be," Branson said, adding that the space tourist-carrying vehicles could rocket spaceward from the Mojave, California desert, Las Vegas, New Mexico, or possibly Florida.
"Our principal aim behind this is not to make money. The principal aim is to reinvest any money we make into space exploration," Branson said. "We expect to double, triple, quadruple the number of astronauts in the next few years that have currently experienced space," he indicated.
To date Branson has about a 10,000 pioneers have been willing to pay $200,000 to be the first people to go for a tour of the solar system via Virgin InterGalactic. "These are the kinds of people who are going to enable us to bring the cost of space travel down," he added.