Space entrepreneurs Burt Rutan and Richard Branson announced plans Thursday to form a new aerospace production company to build a fleet of commercial suborbital spaceships and equipment.
Called Spaceship Co., the enterprise will be jointly owned by Britain-based Virgin Group Ltd. and Mojave-based Scaled Composites, which built SpaceShipOne, the rocket that made the first private manned spaceflight on June 21, 2004, and then won the $10-million Ansari X Prize with two more suborbital flights last year.
Last fall, British billionaire Branson signed an agreement with Rutan to build a commercial passenger spacecraft based on SpaceShipOne for its new subsidiary Virgin Galactic.
The new partnership allows Spaceship Co. to own the intellectual property of Scaled Composite's new spaceship designs and market them to aerospace operators including Virgin Galactic, said Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic.
Scaled Composites is currently designing SpaceShipTwo and its carrier plane White Knight Two.
Virgin Galactic has ordered two mother ships and five SpaceShipTwos, which can carry seven passengers and a two-person crew.
Rutan's design uses an airplane to carry the spaceship to high altitude before it is released and its rocket ignited.
Virgin Galactic hopes to operate space flights by the end of 2008. Fares for the flights will start at $200,000.
The location of the headquarters for Spaceship Co. has not yet been determined.