The development of commercial orbital systems for crew launch under the NASA CCDev2 programme just got a lot more... complicated. There are reports that Virgin Galactic is teaming with *both* Orbital Sciences (on a new four-person lifting body design) and Sierra Nevada Corporation on their Dream Chaser spaceplane (something which I've raised as a possible collaboration before).
Dulles, Va.-based Orbital is teaming with Virgin Galactic of New Mexico on the Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev 2) project. Virgin Galactic will market commercial rides on the spacecraft, conduct drop tests of the orbital space vehicle using its WhiteKnightTwo aircraft and offer transport services for the space vehicle, industry sources said. Although Orbital expects to launch and land the spacecraft at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in the event of an abort, WhiteKnightTwo would be used to ferry the spaceship between its landing location and the Cape.
Virgin is also expected to announce this week a separate CCDev 2 bid led by Sierra Nevada Corp., the big winner in NASA’s first round of Commercial Crew Development awards earlier this year. The Sparks, Nev.-based firm garnered $20 million in CCDev 1 funds to mature its Dream Chaser orbital spacecraft, a six-passenger lifting-body vehicle based on NASA’s HL-20 concept from the early 1990s that the company has been working on for several years.
Fox News reports on Virgin's ambitions beyond the suborbital passenger business, starting with orbital missions for NASA to the International Space Station, and moving forward:
"We'll start with suborbital flights into space, we're then dreaming about trying to move on to orbital, and dreaming about, you know, looking at maybe having hotels in space one day, dreaming about maybe having intercontinental flights," Branson said in a recent Virgin Galactic video. "And if you don't dream you don't achieve anything. We try to inspire our engineers and technicians to make dreams become realities."
More discussion of Virgin Galactic's plans to bid for NASA Commercial Crew Development funding in an article in Aviation Week:
“There’s about four companies that are seriously looking at [CCDev Phase 2],” Branson said in an interview with AVIATION WEEK. “Two of those companies we’re in discussions with about teaming up with. ... Over the next month, we’re going to make a decision as to whether to team up with one of those two companies or go it alone, but we plan to be in orbital travel within the next few years.”
Since Space Adventures has already linked up with Boeing for passenger launch on the CST-100 capsule, there is speculation that Virgin is talking to SpaceX, and to Sierra Nevada Corporation (builders of the Dreamchaser spaceplane). Virgin may also be looking at resuscitating the airlaunched concept designed by Scaled Composites for T/Space.