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Japanese space tourism effort gets a boost

PD Aerospace space plane
PD AeroSpace has teamed up with H.I.S. and ANA Holdings. (PD AeroSpace Ltd. / Koike Terumasa Design and Aerospace)

PD Aerospace, a Japanese company that’s similar to Virgin Galactic in its commercial spaceflight aspirations, has picked up two high-profile investors: ANA Holdings and the H.I.S. travel agency.

In a joint statement issued on Dec. 1, the three Japanese companies said that they agreed in October to work together on space commercialization efforts, including space travel.

H.I.S. is investing about $264,000 (30 million yen) for a 10.3 percent share of the venture. ANA Holdings, the umbrella company for the ANA (All Nippon Airways) airline, is putting in about $180,000 (20.4 million yen) for a 7 percent share.

The combined amount of investment wouldn’t be enough to buy two tickets on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, which is currently undergoing flight tests at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port.

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New SpaceShipTwo generates positive vibes

Image: Hangar rollout
In this photo from the rollout, the VSS Unity rocket plane is on the left, the VMS Eve mothership is on the right, and Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson is on the dais. (Virgin Galactic photo)

MOJAVE, Calif. – This time around, Virgin Galactic took no chances with the weather.

When the first SpaceShipTwo rocket plane was rolled out and christened Virgin Spaceship Enterprise in 2009, the craft sat out in Mojave’s December chill. A windstorm ended up spoiling the party and blowing away the tents that Virgin Galactic set up for the celebration.

For Feb. 19’s christening of Virgin Spaceship Unity, the ceremonies were held indoors at the hangar used by Virgin Galactic and its manufacturing arm, known as The Spaceship Company.

Not that the weather was anything to worry about: The show wrapped up in the middle of the afternoon, well before the temperatures dropped and the winds picked up. VSS Unity was even taken outside into the sunshine after the ceremonies wrapped up.

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Virgin Galactic christens reborn SpaceShipTwo

Image: VSS Unity
Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, dubbed the VSS Unity, rolls out under the spotlights at the company’s hangar in Mojave, Calif. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

MOJAVE, Calif. – Sixteen months after Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo rocket plane was lost amid tragedy, the second SpaceShipTwo was christened Virgin Spaceship Unity with a smashed bottle of milk and a big gulp of celebrity glitz.

Hundreds of employees, VIPs and would-be spacefliers gathered on Feb. 19 for the craft’s official rollout at the Final Assembly, Integration and Test Hangar, or FAITH, here at the Mojave Air and Space Port. And although British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking couldn’t attend the ceremony in person, he read out the rocket plane’s new name in an audio clip.

“We are entering a new space age, and I hope this will help to create a new unity,” said Hawking, who has been guaranteed a free spaceflight if he’s up to it when VSS Unity enters service. “Space exploration has already been a great unifier. We seem able to cooperate between nations in space, in a way we can only envy on Earth.”

Then Virgin Galactic’s founder, British billionaire Richard Branson, arranged for the official christening to be done by his granddaughter, Eva Deia, who was born exactly one year ago today.

“I’m pretty sure a 1-year-old has never christened a spaceship before, so we really are in virgin territory,” Branson quipped. “Today seems to the right time to change that, as we after all are celebrating the birth of two gorgeous ladies.”

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