Land Rover has lined up a new partnership that might be described as out-of-this-world, pairing the British SUV manufacturer with fledgling manned space company Virgin Galactic.
Part of British mega-entrepreneur Richard Branson’s empire – which runs from music to airlines – Virgin Galactic plans to launch a test flight of its manned spacecraft, dubbed the Enterprise, later this year and launch commercial flights soon after. The “long-term” partnership will begin with Land Rover providing vehicles for use at the new Spaceport America in New Mexico.
“This is a huge, momentous occasion,” proclaimed Phil Popham, Land Rover’s Global Operations Director, during a ceremony aboard the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier that is anchored off Manhattan – and where a replica of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft was positioned next to the Discovery Vision Concept vehicle the British maker will officially unveil at the New York Auto Show this week.
The two companies “share a common understanding of the concept of exploration and discovery,” added George Whitesides, a former NASA scientist who now serves as CEO of Virgin Galactic. “We’re at the dawn of the second space age,” added Whitesides, a test version of the U.S. space shuttle, also dubbed Enterprise, parked in a hangar at the other end of the Intrepid.
Like the shuttle, the Virgin Galactic Enterprise – also known as SpaceShipTwo VSS – is meant to be a reusable way to send humans into outer space. There are a key differences, however.
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Where the shuttles were sent into orbit — requiring them to reach a speed of around 18,000 miles an hour – the Enterprise and the ships to follow will reach barely 2,500 miles an hour, essentially going into a sub-orbital ballistic flight more similar to what the very first NASA space pioneers experienced. And the relatively brief Virgin Galactic flights will reach only slightly above the 65 mile altitude where space is considered to begin, barely half as high as a shuttle.
But how you view the cost of a planned Virgin Galactic flight depends upon your perspective. Compared to the $50 million Russia currently charges to launch an American astronaut to the International Space Station, it’s relatively cheap – though that’s not a word most wannabe space flyers might use for a short flight that will cost about $250,000.
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As part of their new partnership, Virgin and Land Rover have a number of other efforts in mind, though Popham and Whitesides hinted at only one on Monday night, plans to use the program as an educational tool to rebuild interest in manned spaceflight, particularly among the next generation of young people who, Popham asserted, are much more likely to reach out to the stars during their lifetime.
For the carmaker, the debut of the new partnership provided a unique tie-in that could also be used to preview the new show vehicle that it plans to show off to the public in the coming weeks at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
The Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept offers a hint of more than just the planned replacement for the current “Disco” model, known in the U.S. as the LR4, explained the marque’s global design chief Gerry McGovern.
“This concept represents a vision of a family of Discovery (models), not just one,” he said, the first of which is due to market about a year from now.
(For a tease of the new Discovery Vision Concept, Click Here.)