Northrop Grumman Buys Builder of SpaceShipOne

WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman Corp. agreed July 5 to increase its stake in Scaled Composites — the builder of the Ansari X-Prize Cup-winning SpaceShipOne and a host of record-breaking aircraft — from 40 percent to 100 percent, Northrop Grumman spokesman Dan McClain confirmed July 20.

McClain, who declined to disclose the value of the deal, said the company expects it to close in August pending regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Scaled Composites currently is working with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic venture on a vehicle designated for now as SpaceShipTwo, which would carry two pilots and six paying passengers into suborbital space for a few minutes of weightlessness. The company also is building a new carrier aircraft, dubbed WhiteKnight2, that will carry SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 15 kilometers before releasing it to soar to suborbital space.

The two companies last year formed a joint venture called the Spaceship Company to build the new vehicles.

Alex Tai, chief operating officer of Virgin Galactic, declined to comment when asked July 20 how the acquisition would affect his company's dealings with Scaled Composites. "I'm afraid I can't provide you with any comment at this stage and I don't think [Scaled Composites] can either," Tai said.

Scaled Composites, with the backing of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 when SpaceShipOne was piloted to an altitude just above the internationally recognized border of space twice in a two-week period.

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Editor-in-Chief, SpaceNews

Brian Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews, a bi-weekly space industry news magazine, and He joined SpaceNews covering NASA in 1998 and was named Senior Staff Writer in 2004 before becoming Deputy Editor in 2008. Brian's reporting on NASA's 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident and received the Communications Award from the National Space Club Huntsville Chapter in 2019. Brian received a bachelor's degree in magazine production and editing from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.