Virgin Takes Two

This morning, I briefly contemplated writing yet another rant against the airline industry after reading how fortunate we were to stay home over the holiday weekend. But that would have been easy. US Airways is battling with employees again? What a surprise.

In investing and in life I prefer to be an optimist. The risk in this approach is that I have fallen in love with stocks when I shouldn't have. But -- and this is a big but -- it can pay to be an optimist when everyone else is a pessimist. And so I am when it comes to the transportation industry. That's because I'm not thinking about airlines, trains, or cars, but instead am focusing my attention up toward the heavens. So, Monday was a pretty good day for me.

That's when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) provided more details on the plans of Virgin Group founder and serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson for his Virgin Galactic venture. According to the BBC, the model for the five spaceliners that will make up Branson's fleet is starting to take shape.

Dubbed SpaceShipTwo, the new craft will be markedly different from its predecessor, which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize by completing consecutive suborbital space flights and returning to Earth safely. The differences are likely to have everything to do with providing passengers the same kind of luxurious ride Branson has created in the Upper Class suites on his Virgin Atlantic jets. But SpaceShipTwo won't be anywhere near the size of any of the Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) 747 passenger jets that dominate Virgin Atlantic's fleet. Designer Burt Rutan told the BBC that he expects the ships, when finished, to be roughly the size of a Gulfstream V jet. That means no more than five to eight passengers for any one journey.

With each ticket expected to fetch up to $200,000, you'd expect Branson to include more than a few dashes of the luxurious for his customers in those small cabins. Yet the size of the craft also speaks to the need for safety. SpaceShipTwo is expected to include fully reclining seats and roller-coaster-style seat bars to help passengers handle the stress caused by escape velocity. That's because Rutan wants SpaceShipTwo to go as much as 20 miles higher than its predecessor, to a ceiling of 87 miles. Doing so would give passengers another 90 seconds of weightlessness, a key feature of these otherwise rapid suborbital trips. Well, that and the view.

For related Foolishness, see:

  • There's no word yet on whether SpaceDev, whose rocket burned rubber for SpaceShipOne, will help Branson's new venture take flight.
  • Would you want to rest in space?
  • Remember when Virgin started its 70-mile-high club?

Fool contributor Tim Beyers doesn't have $200,000 to spare on a rocket ride, no matter how rule-breaking the adventure may be. He also owns none of the stocks mentioned in this story. You can find out what's in Tim's portfolio by checking out his Fool profile, which is here.


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