Virgin Galactic owner Sir Richard Branson has inked a deal with NBC ensuring that the U.S. television network will air live coverage of the inaugural flight of the company’s private SpaceShipTwo rocket ship, as well as other special programs in the run up to the historic first flight. Branson and NBCUniversal unveiled the deal Nov. 8.
Branson and his two children, Sam and Holly, are slated to be the first passengers on SpaceShipTwo, which is designed to fly six passengers and two pilots on trips to suborbital space and back for $250,000 apiece. The spacecraft launches from the air after being dropped by its mothership, the huge carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo.
Virgin Galactic and SpaceShipTwo builder Scaled Composites have been putting the spacecraft through a series of supersonic flight tests this year leading up to the first space launch. The first commercial flight is currently expected to take place in 2014 from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
“Virgin Galactic is thrilled that NBCUniversal will join us on our exciting first journey to space,” Branson said in a statement. “In this first chapter of commercial space travel, we will help make space accessible and inspire countless more people to join us in the pursuit of space exploration and science innovation.”
NBC will air a prime-time special the night before the flight and a three-hour live event on the “TODAY” show during the flight of the new commercial spaceplane, NBC representatives said.
“Without a doubt, Sir Richard and his children taking the first commercial flight into space, will go down in history as one of the most memorable events on television,” Sharon Scott, president and general manager of Peacock Productions, said in a statement.
“Through NBCUniversal’s multiple platforms and overseas network partners, viewers from around the world will get to experience this where were you moment; we’re extremely honored to chronicle Sir Richard’s journey and live launch into space,” Scott added.
SpaceShipTwo will launch from an altitude of 15,000 meters into the air by WhiteKnightTwo. After its release, the suborbital spaceplane’s rocket engine will fire for 70 seconds and then shut down, allowing the plane to climb higher. The spaceship will then reach a peak altitude of 110,000 meters, where the passengers will experience about five minutes of weightlessness. About 640 would-be space tourists have bought tickets for a SpaceShipTwo rocket ride, including many celebrities.