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How, if at all, does suborbital flight benefit real space flight outside of the atmosphere? I mean suborbital flights as a business on its own, e.g. for tourism, not just suborbital testing of space equipment.

Historically, military applications like the V2 and ICBM's were very helpful for space flight, which I think can even be said became a spin off from such suborbital projects. But what about today's suborbital projects? Virgin Galactic, Lynx, Skylon, Copenhagen Suborbital and others all seem to be very aerodynamical with little in common with space flight. (With the exception of Blue origin which seems conceptually easier to scale into real space travel, and of course JPaerospace fantastic idea about "airship to orbit" which however remains to be proven.)

Could there for example be an orbital and then a lunar upgrade of the VG SpaceShip Two? Doesn't look so superficially. If a suborbital company of today decides to go into space instead, do they have competence and experience required thanks to their suborbital RnD? Or do suborbital flights have more in common with airplanes than with spaceships?

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Skylon (http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/space_skylon.html) is designed for orbital flights.

The Xcor Lynx Mark III (see http://xcor.com/lynxdevelopment/index.html) will feature a dorsal pod to carry an "upper stage capable of launching a small satellite into low earth orbit."

The VG SpaceShip 2 appears to have no potential for orbital use, and neither does Copenhagen Suborbital, but as with everything else in "New Space", this may be subject to change without notice.

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In the almost five years since you asked this question, surprisingly little has changed. XCOR went bankrupt, removing Lynx from the board. Copenhagen Suborbital, Skylon, and Virgin Galactic soldier on at some level of effort. None of their craft under development have flown a human into space.

There has been one development or sign of interest from these companies in orbital flight. Virgin Galactic is developing LauncherOne, an air-launched orbital small satellite launcher. From what I can tell, though, it shares remarkably little technology with SpaceShipTwo. As of this writing, it is not even supposed to be dropped from SpaceShipTwo's carrier plane, but instead from a dedicated Boeing 747.

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