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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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  • Whodathunk (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Saint Stephen (19450) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:19PM (#30356474) Homepage Journal

    That the guy that I guess history will say started commercial space flight for real, owned a company that used to sell cassettes and records.

    • 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?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Aladrin (926209)

        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 FMZ (1178473) <kj_sonny&hotmail,com> on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:01PM (#30357012)
          You have obviously never listened to Pink Floyd after smoking marijuana.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by BlackSnake112 (912158)

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

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by drakaan (688386)

            ...are we saying that Branson invented the spaceship?. The analogy seems apt to me. Virgin may well be the first company to make strides in mass-produced spacecraft. Only time will tell.

          • 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, Interesting)

          by RichardJenkins (1362463) on Monday December 07, 2009 @05:59PM (#30358306)

          Under the virgin brand you'll find at one time or another:

          Music label
          Radio station
          Retail store
          Cola drink
          Credit card
          Trains
          Airplanes
          Balloon rides
          Wines
          Cruises
          ISP
          Cable television provider

          Eclectic properties indeed. History will probably record that commercial space flight was begun by a conglomerate with a vast experience in launching new enterprises under its branding.

          Remember how GE got started?

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by camperdave (969942)
            Remember how GE got started?

            Yes, he started out as a Private and worked his way up the ranks to General.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by bronney (638318)

          Bill Gates: software to charity

          John Carmack: commander keen to rocketry

          the Einstein: patent stamper to all your base

          Spiderman: lab geeks to ballet dancer

          Our ability to innovate, surprise, excel, and generally succeed has nothing to do with what you think you can do. But more to do with what you are willing to do. Let's not mention the failed ones hehehe.

      • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jwsm[ ]e.com ['yth' in gap]> on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:42PM (#30356754) Homepage Journal

            Well...

            * Hobbyist watch repairs as a teenager.
            * Machinist in Detroit.
            * Steam engine repairs for Westinghouse.
            * Engineer at Edison Illuminating Company (promoted to chief engineer)

            Kinda sounds like the type of guy who could build a car. :) Not that I like Fords though, I prefer GM vehicles. :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by caseih (160668)

      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: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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MichaelSmith (789609)

        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: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by geckipede (1261408)
          Part of the Augustine Comission report on NASA's future covered guaranteed contracts for private space firms. ISS resupply will be a reliable source of business until the station is scrapped. Past that time it's hard to predict what will happen, but one idea was for NASA to put up an orbital fuel storage depot that would be refilled by private launches, again on a guaranteed contract system.
      • 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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          You do realize that there will be a SpaceShipThree, Four, Five, etc, so long as the business remains profitable?

          This means more than you may realize. While "Vomit Comet" is colloquially expressed, it is essentially correct. SS2's engine has a specific impulse of around 250 which is low (LOX/LH might give you around 450). What's that mean? The mass fraction to reach orbit (propellant/structure + payload weight) of a launcher that uses this type of engine would be in the low hundreds:1 compared to 7:1 for a LOX/LH engine.

          At the same time SS2's oxidizer tank is heavy because the N2O is pressure fed and not pump fed. Hea

      • 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 geekmux (1040042) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:09PM (#30357126)

      That the guy that I guess history will say started commercial space flight for real, owned a company that used to sell cassettes and records.

      Yeah, but what really makes me wonder is how did he afford it? I thought everyone went bankrupt after the "collapse" of the Recording and Movie industry? At least that's what the MPAA and RIAA said.

      I hear Bill gates isn't doing too well either, according to the BSA. He's a couple dozen pirated Win7 keys away from begging on a street corner I hear.../p

    • Oh my (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:37PM (#30357418) Journal

      Gods that's a beautiful spaceship. I will toast their success with fine wine.

      This is exactly the sort of thing that got me interested in science as a young boy. Granted that was in the day of Von Braun and Willey Ley and Chesley Bonestell (yes I am that old) but the Universe wrote large in my imagination back then, and I wanted something more than cars that tried to look like airplanes. I wanted the stars. There is nothing as hungry as the imagination of the young.

      I was fortunate to work for NASA for a short while in my career, writing software for the Pioneer spacecraft. I've gone on a bit since then, still in the IT industry and laid a lot of networks. But nothing compares with having been lucky enough to work on something that fired my imagination as a boy.

      Did I mention that's a beautiful spaceship? If form follows function, then something with that form has to be awfully functional.

      There's our Orient Express, people. It's a short step from tourists to passengers.

      I salute you, Sir Richard.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ScoLgo (458010)

        "still in the IT industry and laid a lot of networks."

        Haha!! Who says geeks never get laid?

        Oh wait...

  • 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.
    • development bill. There seems to always be a sufficient number of them who are free with their money to get new modes of travel off the ground (no pun intended)

      Time is one commodity which for some has a lot of value. In the current incarnation SS2 and such are simple frivolity but the questions becomes, how can this be extended to get somewhere else on the globe is a shortened amount of time? Granted in this day of video conferencing and such the need to be there isn't as great.

      Carrying people up is neat

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tekfactory (937086)

      Well as a recent Slashdot story told, Helium3 just hit $20,000 per pound, the moon has plenty of it. The Rare Earth metals that China is hording are likely plentiful in the Near Earth Objects.

      For each mining venture, you send up a module with two units inside with two solar arrays, a VASIMR drive gets them out to the resources. Unload the mining-module and attach the VASIMR to the transport module, the miner makes ingots which the transporter takes from the mine to LEO, and back. Possibly the VASIMR is alwa

      • 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.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by drgould (24404)

      Unfortunately, no one has thought of a way to make money off of it yet. Other than insanely rich tourists.

      ...RIGHT NOW at least. If "insanely rich tourists" are willing to pay to drive down the price of the technology so that I can afford it in 20 years (and all the other benefits that cheap access to space can offer), I'm all for that.

      Hell of a lot better use of their money than the government taxing them and giving it to Al Gore in exchange for carbon credits.

    • ...Unfortunately, no one has thought of a way to make money off of it yet. Other than insanely rich tourists.

      Yes, and if you're wondering where you can find any of those "insanely rich tourists" for your customer base, ah, the line forms to the left...

      Smart billionaires tend to at least try and see if there's a customer base out there before starting something like this. REALLY smart billionaires ask for deposits years ago and enjoy the compounding interest.

  • by starglider29a (719559) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:23PM (#30356518)
    The display on NCC-1701x that shows several ships and a Space Shuttle prototype is now inaccurate... unless Gary Seven sabotages the Virgin craft... hmmm....
  • Enterprise, sure! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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.

    • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:38PM (#30356690) Homepage Journal

      Space...The final frontier to make money. These are the Voyages of the VSS Enterprise...it's 30-minute a week mission to make orbital space as much of a tourist destination as the Carribean...

      • by rednip (186217)

        .it's 30-minute a week mission to make suborbital space as much of a tourist destination as the Carribean..

        There, fixed that for you.

      • by TheHawke (237817)

        Space...The final frontier to make money. These are the Voyages of the VSS Enterprise...it's 30-minute a week mission as a tourist barge, to seek out people with motion sickness, to fill up as many barf bags as possible!

        Fixed it better!

    • Re:Enterprise, sure! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:44PM (#30356784) Homepage
      It is worse than that. The shuttle Enterprise was explicitly named with the USS Enteprise as a spaceship in mind. To confuse matters even more, there have now been official references in Star Trek books and other material to the shuttle Enteprise as the first spaceship of that name. So in the Star Trek universe, the Enterprise shuttle existed but wasn't named after the fictional Enterprise (because Star Trek wasn't a television show in the Star Trek universe). Have a headache yet?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by DwySteve (521303)
        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...).
    • Indeed! (Score:4, Funny)

      by denzacar (181829) on Monday December 07, 2009 @05:55PM (#30358246) Journal

      It is a translation of an ancient Ferengi concept, meaning "a business organization".

  • 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 joeytmann (664434) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:32PM (#30356640)
      I thought the intial flights would be $200K US per seat...or somewhere there abouts. I can't remember where I saw that so I'm probably wrong.
    • by PhantomHarlock (189617) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:35PM (#30356668)

      About $200k per seat. Much like aviation's early days, when air travel was reserved for the wealthy. Give it a few decades and some healthy competition, and the price will come down by an order of magnitude or more. Right now, there's enough customers at that price point to serve the market for years given three or four operating vehicles.

      • by Hadlock (143607)

        As soon as they're running regular flights I would imagine several other companies will be able to get funding to build their own SS2 clone(s). It wouldn't suprise me to see the price drop to $10,000 or $15,000 by 2025 or so -- $10,000 is what most parents spend on their kid's first (used) car in wealthy suburbs of Dallas, Houston and I would presume other cities like NYC and Chicago. At least a few of them spend that much on their yearly vacation(s). There's easily 100x the number of people who would go in

  • Seriously, read it. It makes it sound like the scene from the James Bond movie that has Madonna in it. What part of this smells profit? None. It's nothing but a bunch of rich people throwing money around to impress each other. Eventually you run out of rich people willing to subsidize. And that will happen pretty quickly after the first 2 go up and it loses its appeal. Spending gobs of money to be the 30+ person to use it quickly loses its luster.
    • There is elasticity in the market. The price has a lot of room to come down. As mentioned in another post, there is enough demand at the $200,000 price point to last quite a while; not everybody cares about being first.

      If there are several people per year willing to pay $30mil to go to the ISS for a week, there are a whole hell of a lot more willing and able to pay $200k for a quick jaunt with the view of a lifetime.

    • Also, you might want to have a look at the latest Futron Study [futron.com]...Check out this article [parabolicarc.com] if you don't want to give out your info to download the study itself.

    • Richard Branson disagrees with you.

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

    • ...that the name Enterprise is translation from its native Ferengi name.

      SpaceShipTwo will be unveiled after darkness has fallen over the Mojave Desert to the sound of a space-themed anthem from Britain's biggest DJs, Above & Beyond. Fittingly titled "Buzz" the track will sample Buzz Aldrin's original moon landing dialogue. Following the naming by Governors Richardson and Schwarzenegger, the DJs will also perform an exclusive set at the celebration cocktail party which will follow and feature the first ever IceBar in the desert hosted by Absolut and the world famous Swedish IceHotel. All the guests will be protected from the desert cold by designer space jackets supplied by PUMA. Finally, to close off the celebrations, all the guests will have the opportunity to view the stunning night skies using specialist telescopes supplied by Ron Dantowitz of the Clay Observatory whose unique tracking cameras followed SS1 into space during the epic flights of 2004.

    • 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."

  • 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.

  • Weird looking tails (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EsJay (879629) on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:56PM (#30356948)
    With no connection between the tails of WK2, it looks like it wants to twist apart. Wouldn't that stress the wing unnecessarily? Obviously the folks at Scaled Composites know a bit than me about building airplanes, but it doesn't look right.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      Wings are designed to be stressed. Think about the engines on a B777 pushing the body of the aircraft through the air. But in this case you can think of WK2 as being two airplanes joined at the wing. Rudder inputs could be used to counteract the tendency for the two noses to twist inwards.

  • 6 passengers? (Score:3, Informative)

    by QJimbo (779370) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:05PM (#30357072)

    an entirely new vehicle capable of carrying up to 6 passenger astronauts and up to 2 pilot astronauts into space on a sub-orbital flight.

    No offense... but only 6 passengers? That's not not really that impressive. In my opinion you need at least 20 to 30 passengers before you can start saying it's really mass-market space tourism.

    That aside, it's an interesting craft, and I'll be watching the launch.

  • by karl.auerbach (157250) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:10PM (#30357138) Homepage

    I am curious about those "regulatory requirements" that "guide the unveiling".

    Anybody know what that is all about?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As someone who works in the space industry, it is probably due to ITAR. Most space technologies are on the export control list that requires a license to export to a foreign national.

      wiki [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by rrohbeck (944847)

      I am curious about those "regulatory requirements" that "guide the unveiling".

      Anybody know what that is all about?

      DMV opening hours.

    • FAA signoffs for special use of airspace (to and fro suborbit).
  • It's either "has released its" or "have released their".
  • by Saija (1114681)
    Visual source safe?
  • I'm certainly no expert on the subject but is this even really "space" flight or just "extremely high altitude" flight? At best I think all they have there is simply a novel launching system that allows "slightly cheaper than nasa" low earth orbit, nothing revolutionary in my opinion. But I suppose its a start in the right direction.

    I do however applaud the trend towards privatizing space travel. I think a corportation with some financial incentive and without all the red tape can do this much more efficie

    • by khallow (566160)

      I'm certainly no expert on the subject but is this even really "space" flight or just "extremely high altitude" flight? At best I think all they have there is simply a novel launching system that allows "slightly cheaper than nasa" low earth orbit, nothing revolutionary in my opinion. But I suppose its a start in the right direction.

      Yes, it is space flight. And yes, space tourism is revolutionary.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by camperdave (969942)
      Technically anything over the 100km mark [wikipedia.org] counts as space because, at that altitude, the velocity you need to generate enough lift to keep you airborne is equal to the orbital velocity for that altitude.
  • by frank249 (100528) on Monday December 07, 2009 @05:14PM (#30357850)

    Some have commented that Space Ship Two is only a thrill ride. That may be so for now but the company is already on record as saying that if SS2 is successful, then there will be a SS3 that will be orbital [flightglobal.com]. There is some speculation that SS3 will be only hypersonic point to point but if there is money in it, I am sure Branson will go for an orbital verson some day.

    • There are some that are looking at using the White Knight 2 to carry orbital launch vehicles aloft, similar in principle to the Orbital Sciences Pegasus.
  • 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.

  • No way! It should have been the "Galactica"!

To thine own self be true. (If not that, at least make some money.)

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