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Virgin Galactic Unveils SpaceShipTwo 260

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the slashdot-accepting-evaluation-tickets dept.
RobGoldsmith writes to tell us that Virgin Galactic has unveiled their latest take on manned space travel for the immediate future: SpaceShipTwo. The craft comes complete with matching mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, and will be officially unveiled today in the Mojave Desert just after dark. "Subject to certain US regulatory requirements that will guide the unveiling, SS2 will be attached to her WK2 mothership which was last year unveiled and named EVE after Sir Richard Branson's mother. In the future, WK2 will carry SS2 to above 50,000 feet (16 kilometers) before the spaceship is dropped and fires her rocket motor to launch into space from that altitude. In honor of a long tradition of using the word Enterprise in the naming of Royal Navy, US Navy, NASA vehicles and even science fiction spacecraft, Governor Schwarzenegger of California and Governor Richardson of New Mexico will today christen SS2 with the name Virgin Space Ship (VSS) ENTERPRISE. This represents not only an acknowledgment to that name’s honorable past but also looks to the future of the role of private enterprise in the development of the exploration, industrialization and human habitation of space."
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Virgin Galactic Unveils SpaceShipTwo

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  • by Xeoz (1648225) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:22PM (#30356502)
    As much as I love NASA and the space program, it is time to private companies to start building an industry out of it. Only when private companies find profits in space will we see real progress. Unfortunately, no one has thought of a way to make money off of it yet. Other than insanely rich tourists.
  • Enterprise, sure! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:25PM (#30356542)

    In honor of a long tradition of using the word Enterprise in the naming of Royal Navy, US Navy, NASA vehicles and even science fiction spacecraft, Governor Schwarzenegger of California and Governor Richardson of New Mexico will today christen SS2 with the name Virgin Space Ship (VSS) ENTERPRISE.

    Oh, come on. We all know why they really named it that.

  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by starglider29a (719559) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:26PM (#30356558)
    What did Henry Ford do before he changed everything?
  • by OrangeMonkey11 (1553753) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:27PM (#30356584)

    Have they release any sort of flight prices to the public or we can all assume right now the flight cost would be completely out of the range of the general population.

  • by castironpigeon (1056188) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:39PM (#30356708)

    I doubt that true exploration will ever be done privately. There's no money to be made that way.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Gold_Rush [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klondike_Gold_Rush [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bend_Gold_Rush [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cayoosh_Gold_Rush [wikipedia.org]

    ...etc.

  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:41PM (#30356742)

    He worked as a machinist... That's at least somewhat the same as inventing the car.

    From audio to spaceflight is completely different jump.

  • by mdarksbane (587589) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:43PM (#30356764)

    Did that article seriously try to argue that a new spaceplane was going to be an ecological breakthrough? No, no, no! SS2 is cool because it's a spaceship, not because it's engines are fricking low-carbon.

  • by Tekfactory (937086) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:59PM (#30357004) Homepage

    The problem with GOLD is that if you had a huge gold nugget sitting in space, some have said it wouldn't be worth the cost of de-orbiting it. Not to mention what it would do to the precious metals markets to have tons of gold dumped on the market.

    In this instance you need something with worthwhile industrial uses, not just novelty or scarcity driving the prices.

    This is why I brought up the helium3 in another part of this thread, its useful in Nuclear Fusion, apparently in Medical imaging, and other stuff. Its currently worth $20,000 per pound.

  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by caseih (160668) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:02PM (#30357026)

    Not really. It's just a glorified vomit comet with some spectacular views. The real pioneers in commercial space flight are companies like Space-X who are very close to having launch capacity capable of being man-rated for orbital flight! We probably should cancel the Aries launch system and instead partner with Space-X.

    In the meantime, Virgin Galactic or whatever it is called is just a glorified thrill ride that does nothing to advance real commercial space flight.

  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:18PM (#30357218)
    I don't believe the absence of information on Wikipedia means what you think it means.
  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Idiomatick (976696) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:21PM (#30357258)
    It'll probably make it 130km in the air so it isn't a normal plane ride... (Which do like 12k). It advances different parts of it. Just because it isn't about to do a moon landing doesn't mean it isn't valuable.

    They seem to have a fairly elegant launch system and a VERY elegant landing system. I'm sure they have other advances as well.

    Now of course the patent system will kill any chances of this being used. And people are often to prideful to not reinvent the wheel half the time anyways. (It'd be neat to see the US license some russian tech rather than spend billions re-figuring shit out)
  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:22PM (#30357268) Homepage Journal

    It costs $20 million dollars to fly to orbit right now. With new technology from companies like Space-X the price could come down, but will this happen before the supply of millionaires dries up? There is more demand at the $200 000 price point. Demand is needed to drive research.

  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:29PM (#30357330)

    Not really. It's just a glorified vomit comet with some spectacular views. The real pioneers in commercial space flight are companies like Space-X who are very close to having launch capacity capable of being man-rated for orbital flight! We probably should cancel the Aries launch system and instead partner with Space-X.

    In the meantime, Virgin Galactic or whatever it is called is just a glorified thrill ride that does nothing to advance real commercial space flight.

    NASA didn't build the Saturn V as the very first project out the gate. While they had no mission to turn a profit on the venture, they broke the development up into tiny steps to make sure nothing went wrong. Virgin Galactic has to turn a profit. The first system was proof of concept. The second system here is about making money. You do realize that there will be a SpaceShipThree, Four, Five, etc, so long as the business remains profitable?

    This is not a zero-sum game. Space-X can compete building unmanned rockets. They're getting pretty good at it. Rutan and crew can concentrate on putting the people up there. SpaceShipOne was not a vomit comet, it was like the Redstone suborbital launch. SpaceShipTwo is the same with paying passengers. Three or Four will probably make the step of getting into a proper orbit.

  • by zippthorne (748122) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:40PM (#30357458) Journal

    The problem with VASIMR is that it's way too complicated for what you get: an engine which varies between "inefficient, and not enough thrust to do anything with minimum thrust requirements" and "moderately efficient, with much less thrust"

    If you want to get off planet, VASIMR does you no good. You need Chemical or nuclear rockets, and nuclear rockets aren't clean enough to use on a populated planet.

    The problem with 3He, though, is that that the price is high, but the demand is low. Nothing about collecting it from the moon (which doesn't have much of it at all, just higher concentration than the earth's crust, which would be useful if we weren't getting the current supply from natural gas pockets....) will increase the demand for it in the near-term. Maybe in fifty or a hundred years if fusion becomes practical and just can't be done with more available isotopes, but i've got my money on "we realize that fission is more than enough for the next fifty-thousand years, so fusion research will have plenty of time to figure out how to use elements we have in abundance on the ground"

    You want commercial space? Bring costs down. That's it. Getting stuff into space is so ridiculously expensive that communications companies are talking about using airships and solar-powered drones instead of satellites for many purposes.

  • by DwySteve (521303) <sfriederichs@nosPAm.gmail.com> on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:48PM (#30357530) Homepage
    Naming it Enterprise doesn't give me a headache. I can buy naming just about anything Enterprise because there is a tradition of the name (obviously the original starship Enterprise wasnt' named after itself!). What gives me the headache is that this supposed 'spaceship' in the Star Trek universe never went into space [wikipedia.org] (in our universe at least...).
  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Civil_Disobedient (261825) on Monday December 07, 2009 @05:05PM (#30357754)

    Henry ford did not invent the car. Assembly line way of building the cars, yes.

    He didn't even do that, though he's frequently given credit (for both). The first man to use an assembly-line to build cars was Ransom E. Olds [wikipedia.org] (of Oldsmobile fame) who built the Curved Dash [wikipedia.org] in 1901. He also patented the process (fat lot of good it did him for the history books, though).

  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Monday December 07, 2009 @05:13PM (#30357830)

    In the meantime, Virgin Galactic or whatever it is called is just a glorified thrill ride that does nothing to advance real commercial space flight.

    Nonsense. The most important thing to remember here is that the technology is only part of commercial space flight. The more important part is finding some activity that makes money. They're answering the question "Can we make money doing this?" Virgin is exploring a virgin market (pun intended). SpaceShipTwo tests the waters to see what the space tourism market really is like. They're also developing the infrastructure for running flights and maintaining these vehicles.

    Further the vehicle is significant progress towards an orbital vehicle. Performancewise, it generates about a quarter to third of the delta v that would be required to get to space (it'll have almost as much gravity losses as an orbital shot). Heat dissipation is a more serious problem since it probably only has to dissipate somewhere around 1/40 of the heat that would come from reentry (I'm assuming throughout this that it has similar performance to the SpaceShipOne). Extending the design to an orbital one will have to overcome some serious problems, in particular, a serious thermal protection system will need to be designed. But these are known engineering issues with existing solutions (NASA has done a number of studies on reentry of winged and lifting body designs).

    What can be currently addressed are the processes of launching, recovering, and maintaining SpaceShipTwo. The crew handling this work will be able to apply that experience to later generations of the vehicle. It's a risky, high performance vehicle that needs a good crew to nurse it from one launch to the next.

    In summary, it's not just a glorified thrill ride, but a stepping stone to orbital space flight. Maybe it won't pan out. If that happens, then Virgin Galactic has limited its risk by building a less ambitious project.

  • by jfengel (409917) on Monday December 07, 2009 @05:24PM (#30357932) Homepage Journal

    I know this thing is sub-orbital, but in theory, how far could it go, if you let it go?

    It seems to me that your next tourist market might be launching it in the US and landing it in, say, Japan. It would hit a market a bit like the Concorde: a somewhat faster trip with a really high markup for coolness.

    I doubt you'd make it a daily flight, but it wouldn't surprise me if you could drum up enough business to make a flight from the US to Japan and back once a month. Or maybe even once a week, once the price tag comes down below six figures.

  • by pluther (647209) <pluther@nOSpam.usa.net> on Monday December 07, 2009 @05:43PM (#30358120) Homepage

    Richard Branson disagrees with you.

    And now we know why we're all talking about his business and not yours.

  • by SunTzuWarmaster (930093) on Monday December 07, 2009 @06:33PM (#30358694) Homepage

    What part of this smells profit? None. It's nothing but a bunch of rich people throwing money around to impress each other.

    Ooohh! Ooohh! Pick me! I can figure out the part that says profit!

    Hint: It's the part where you said there are "rich people throwing money [at you] to impress each other."

  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mano.m (1587187) on Monday December 07, 2009 @07:14PM (#30359152)

    I prefer GM vehicles.

    Mod parent up +5 Funny.

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