Press Release

Virtuoso Prepares to Send Passengers into Sub-orbital Space as Virgin Galactic Completes Successful SpaceShipTwo Rocket Motor Testing

By SpaceRef Editor
July 10, 2009
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Virtuoso Prepares to Send Passengers into Sub-orbital Space as Virgin Galactic Completes Successful SpaceShipTwo Rocket Motor Testing


July 20, 2009 will mark the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk. Having successfully won the race to the moon, the world, and Americans in particular, watched in awe as Armstrong bounded out of Apollo 11 and took the first steps on the moon’s surface. Children everywhere expected their turn would surely come in the not-so-distant future and budding, or at least daydreaming, astronauts were born.

Although a moonwalk is still out of grasp for most, the private sector is making historic progress, itself, as technology to launch passengers into sub-orbital space advances. Virtuoso(R), the leaders in luxury and experiential travel, have teamed up with Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s commercial space tourism project, to offer the space experience exclusively to Virtuoso’s clientele throughout the Americas at a cost of $200,000. At present, fewer than 500 people have ventured into space, but Virgin Galactic already has nearly 300 people from 42 countries waiting in the wings, including Virtuoso CEO, Matthew D. Upchurch.

Upchurch is a “Virgin Galactic Founder,” meaning he will be one of the first 84 people to take the ride into sub-orbital space. As he eagerly awaits his 1-in-14 chance to take the first ride – travelers are selected through a lottery process – Upchurch says his reasons for signing up are twofold.

Says Upchurch, “If you’re of a certain generation, you certainly remember the excitement of seeing someone first walk on the moon. Who hasn’t dreamed of taking that step yourself? For me, though, my interest extends beyond a fascination with space to a driving passion to further travel in general for generations to come. Virgin Galactic’s technology has the ability to transform travel as we know it, creating new flight routes that could literally take you half-way around the world in a couple of hours instead of full days and multiple stops. From a scientific standpoint, Galactic will have the ability to carry payload as well, advancing studies at a fraction of the cost or the environmental impact. This is truly an opportunity to help pioneer an industry shift, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the first transatlantic flights.”

Lending support to Upchurch’s comments, Virgin Galactic continues to announce advancements in their program that squarely position them ahead of their competitors. On May 28, 2009, Virgin Galactic announced the successful completion of the first phase of tests of the rocket motor that will propel space tourists, scientists and payloads into space aboard their SpaceShipTwo craft.

In the desert of southern California, Virgin Galactic’s key supplier, Scaled Composites, and its subcontractor, SNC (Sierra Nevada Corporation), successfully completed the first tests of its innovative rocket motor. The hybrid Nitrous Oxide system being used is the largest of its kind in the world and it will send customers into sub-orbital space at speeds over 2500 mph (4000kmh), to heights over 65 miles (110km) above the Earth’s surface, before the spaceship descends back down through the atmosphere using its revolutionary feathered re-entry system.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic said, “As Virgin Galactic gets ever closer to the start of commercial operations, we are reaching and passing many important and historic milestones. The Virgin MotherShip (VMS) Eve, the first of our amazing, all carbon composite, high altitude WhiteKnightTwo launch vehicles, is flying superbly. SpaceShipTwo, which will air launch from Eve, is largely constructed and awaiting the start of its own test flight program later this year.”

The rocket motor burns for a very short period of time because the spaceship is launched from VMS Eve in the upper atmosphere, rather than from ground level. This means much less fuel is required, and the fuel burn is more environmentally benign than the solid rockets used in most ground based systems.

While the rocket motor is extremely powerful, it is also completely controllable. This system can – if necessary – be shut down at any time, allowing the spaceship to glide back down to land at a conventional runway. This is a significant feature in the overall safety of the Virgin system for human space flight.

So where does this leave aspiring astronauts? Ever closer to their dream, in fact, as Virgin Galactic looks to start sending passengers in late 2010 or early 2011, depending upon the success of its extensive test flight schedule. For Virtuoso, the excitement continues to build, both for Upchurch who anxiously awaits his turn at seeing the curvature of the earth, and for Virtuoso’s clientele who have “the jump” on everyone else for the out-of-this-world experience.
To view broadcast quality footage of the tests and other Virgin Galactic video and images, please visit or .

About Virtuoso

Virtuoso(R) is the industry’s leading luxury travel network. This by-invitation-only organization comprises over 300 agencies with more than 6,000 elite travel specialists in 22 countries in North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand, as well as over 1,200 of the world’s best travel providers and premier destinations. The network’s member agencies generate over $5.1 billion annually in travel sales, making the group the most powerful in the luxury travel segment. Their relationships with the finest travel companies provide the network’s affluent clientele with exclusive amenities, rare experiences and privileged access. Virtuoso is the exclusive network of travel services and benefits provided by MasterCard(R) for participating World Elite MasterCard(R) programs. For more information, please visit

For further press information, please contact:
Misty Ewing
Virtuoso – Director, Public Relations
Ph: 212.588.8242 or m: 206.484.8022

SpaceRef staff editor.