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Space Transportation

White Knight Two Unveiled 144

Posted by kdawson
from the call-me-EVE dept.
xanthos writes "Sir Richard Branson was at the annual Experimental Aircraft Assoc Fly-in to show off EVE (previously known as White Knight Two), the launch vehicle for Virgin Galactic's commercial space operation. Test flights for the vehicle are slated for next year with the first paying passengers going up in 2011. What surprised me was the following from the article: 'So many people have signed up already, Whitehorn said, that the company has collected $40 million in deposits with orders to build five spaceships to meet the demand.' Will this mean that the $200k price tag may be dropping?"
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White Knight Two Unveiled

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  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:19PM (#28898437) Journal

    Orbital human flights aren't planned for SpaceShipTwo, but they are planning on doing orbital microsatellite launches:

    http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2009/07/30/330347/oshkosh-2009-virgin-galactic-flies-high-at-oshkosh.html [flightglobal.com]

    Virgin Galactic will use the cash injection to develop equipment - including a new pylon between the twin hulls of WhiteKnight Two - able to carry a two-stage launcher and satellite weighing up to 200kg (440lb), with a total payload of 17t- into orbit. The aircraft is designed as the mothership for Virgin Galactic's spaceliner SpaceShip Two.
    Virgin Galactic's chief executive Will Whitehorn says that the company will begin its space cargo business in about three years time, two years after it expects to carry the first paying space tourists into suborbit. "For the first five or six years, 80% of our business will be tourism, but five to nine years after that it will be 50/50 [between passengers and cargo or training and scientific flights]," he says.
    Whitehorn says the company could take the cost of launching a satellite into space using a ground-based launcher from $30 million to "as low as $2 million" using WhiteKnight Two.
    He expects the first satellite launchers to be Virgin's own design, either built at its factory in Mojave, California or contracted out to a specialist manufacturer, but eventually the aircraft will be able to carry third-party boosters.
    Whitehorn says that Virgin Galactic was approached by Aabar because the latter saw the opportunity beyond space tourism for the Scaled Composites-built WhiteKnight Two.
    "This investment now gives us the capital to take us through the commercial launch and build an extra WhiteKnight for the satellite business," he says.

  • by bytestorm (1296659) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:30PM (#28898599)
    Virgin's FAQ [virgingalactic.com] says 200000 is only for the first 100 and then scaling down between 100 and 175K for the remainder of the first 1000 and 20k thereafter.
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:34PM (#28898667) Journal

    There's some pretty cool video of White Knight Two flying at Oshkosh here:

    http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/hyperbola/2009/08/video-all-the-virgin-galactic.html [flightglobal.com]

    There's also some notes from a panel discussion [parabolicarc.com] on the craft. Some highlights:

    * Production run for the program is set up for 12 WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and 50 SpaceShipTwo crafts;
    * This is the first all-composites aircraft, something that the aviation industry needs to embrace more;
    * WhiteKnightTwo is not just an aircraft, it is a spacecraft delivery system that is capable of delivering cargo into space cheaply; [orbital microsatellite launch]
    * Scaled and Virgin are confident they can build a WhiteKnightThree that will allow they to launch even larger payloads into space;
    * Rutan said WhiteKnightTwo is very manueverable, and he expected to put the vehicle through aerobatic manuevers at the Oshkosh show next year;
    * Whitehorn didnâ(TM)t seem to like this idea very much, vigorously shaking his head and trying to dissuade the designer from such an idea.

  • by bytestorm (1296659) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:35PM (#28898679)
    That's just the deposit price; full ticket price is still 200,000.
  • by radtea (464814) on Friday July 31, 2009 @02:16PM (#28899309)

    So, does this thing literally burn rubber?

    Solid fuel compositions tend to be rubbery. This makes them insensitive to vibrations and thermal stresses which could lead to cracking in stiffer compositions. Cracking is a Very Bad Thing as it tends to produce sudden trust variations.

    So if by "rubber" you mean "made from the sap of a rubber tree or a similar hydrocarbon synthetic designed primarily for flexibility and resilience", then no, it doesn't burn rubber. The fuel is designed primarily for high specific impulse, with the rubbery characteristics design in secondarily.

    The use of a hybrid solid-fuel/fluid-oxidizer design allows the engine to be throttled, and yet is considerably cheaper than a comparably powerful liquid rocket design.

    Aside: has anyone noticed that /. is even more borken than usual today, failing to recognize the text entry area for comments past about a 64 column limit?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 31, 2009 @02:26PM (#28899467)

    Yes and no, it burns hydroxy-terminated polybutadiene (tire rubber) according to this article [howstuffworks.com]

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday July 31, 2009 @03:01PM (#28900025) Journal
    If you look up "hybrid rocket" what you'll see is a lot of similar systems. Traditionally, rockets were either liquid fuel, where you mixed two liquids (oxygen and kerosine, oxygen and hydrogen, for example) or one block of solid fuel like the Thiokol system on the Space Shuttle boosters -- which is, itself, commonly referred to as rubber. A hybrid system uses a solid fuel and a liquid or gaseous oxidizer. Nitrous oxide works well. One interesting thing about it is that you can use just about anything that contains carbon as the solid fuel: rubber, a big stack of paper soaked in wax, or even the infamous Salami Rocket [mythbustersresults.com]. ("That's what SHE said.") People who build big model rockets often use stacked wax paper discs because they hold up better than salami, and are easier to make than thiokol-type stuff (and they seem to burn more cleanly as well, compared to home-made polymer-type fuels.)
  • by Kepesk (1093871) on Friday July 31, 2009 @03:04PM (#28900067) Homepage
    Actually, there is an orbital hotel in the works. Most people aren't aware that there are already two orbital space hotel proof-of-concepts. http://www.bigelowaerospace.com/ [bigelowaerospace.com]
  • by CecilPL (1258010) on Friday July 31, 2009 @03:07PM (#28900125)
    You're right. They're talking about it because Congress hasn't given them the funds to continue supporting the ISS beyond 2016. But they aren't doing it as a threat, they're doing it because there are international treaties that require them to deorbit it after they stop supporting it.

    Nobody at NASA actually wants to destroy it so soon after completing it, but if Congress doesn't fund it they won't have a choice.
  • by Tekfactory (937086) on Friday July 31, 2009 @03:53PM (#28900941) Homepage

    I know this was from the website so I don't refute you, but.

    * Rutan said WhiteKnightTwo is very manueverable, and he expected to put the vehicle through aerobatic manuevers at the Oshkosh show next year;
    * Whitehorn didnâ(TM)t seem to like this idea very much, vigorously shaking his head and trying to dissuade the designer from such an idea.

    Burt Rutan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burt_Rutan [wikipedia.org]
    has a brother Richard "Dick" Rutan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Rutan [wikipedia.org]
    Burt designs aircraft, and Dick flies them.

    Richard had been a fighter pilot, and asked Burt for years to build him an Aerobatic plane, Burt wouldn't do it because the liability insurance on such a design would be too expensive.

    Instead Burt built an airplane called Voyager to fly around the world, and Richard flew it around the world with his then girlfriend as the copilot.

    Dick also flew a Rocket Powered Long EZ for XCOR a test bed for their Rocket motor, and other Rocket Racing League technologies.

    Knowing how conservative Burt is, and the fact he doesn't like Aerobatics;
    http://www.avweb.com/news/profiles/182970-1.html [avweb.com]

    I have to believe it was Dick not Burt that said he'd fly aerobatics in WhiteKnightTwo at Oshkosh next year.

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