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SpaceShipTwo Design and Pics Released 245

An anonymous reader writes "Designs and photos for Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic's new suborbital spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, have been released." Lots of specs and numbers if you're interested in that sort of thing although nothing hugely detailed.
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SpaceShipTwo Design and Pics Released

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  • by FlatEric521 ( 1164027 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @01:30PM (#22155194)
    Really, the primary thing this project has going for it is that it is not funded by a government. It might be boring and not state of the art now, but further development of private space flight should lead to some truly interesting technology and vehicles.
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland.yahoo@com> on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @01:31PM (#22155196) Homepage Journal
    Cutting edge technology is only one place to contribute to space flight. Production improvements can also aid space flight, and producing more of the material needed to do space flight may improve manufacturing techniques.

    Then making 'space flight' available to more of the public helps create more awareness.

  • by iocat ( 572367 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @01:37PM (#22155280) Homepage Journal
    It advances the state of the art not at all, but if it gets the kids interested in space flight, and icreases public support for NASA and other govt. funding, or even creates a market for that crazy inflatable space hotel [bigelowaerospace.com], I am all for it. Plus Scaled Composites is a cool company.

    Plus, why does something need to advance the state of the art to be cool or worth doing? Making something that's already proven to be possible cheaper and more accesible is a noble goal too (see also: the personal computer revolution).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @01:40PM (#22155324)
    There is nothing irrelevant about brining space travel to the masses. You are free to ride in the cargo bay of one of those commercial rockets, I'd rather take a "joyride" in comfort and see things few humans have seen.
  • Re:Cool, but.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @01:55PM (#22155572)
    Well yes. But that was the simular excuse back in the 1500's Trans contental travel was not cheap back then, nore was it mostly risk free. Much like Space Travel is today. Today the average middle class american person who saves some money can take a cruse around the world, if they liked, back a few hundred years ago that was only reserved for the super rich or a governemnt. Space Travel is starting to get to this point now... Except it needs to be far safer then the Trans Contental Sea Voyages were back then. Once the Super Rich get they jollies from the space ride in time the technology will become more common and afordable first to the Rich then down to the middle class, then most anyone could take a trip... I may take a few hundred years but overall it is worth it.
  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @02:00PM (#22155620) Homepage

    It might be boring and not state of the art now, but further development of private space flight should lead to some truly interesting technology and vehicles.

    But, really, if private space travel is to become commonplace, what we want is boring and un-sexy technology -- not exciting and cutting edge.

    What we need is the equivalent of a Buick station wagon with wood-grain trim. Boring as hell, but a reliable vehicle which focuses on doing the task instead of pushing the envelope. Once you have that, then this stuff can start to become routine based on available technology.

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @02:00PM (#22155626) Homepage
    First off, almost all orbital launches are private. Most are completely private except for government funding in the development stage and government launch contracts; the launches are run for-profit by companies like Boeing and Lockheed. Even for ones run by NASA, like the shuttle, the craft itself was largely built by private companies. If you want to rule out "large" private companies, there's SeaLaunch, Orbital Sciences, etc, who've developed and run for-profit their own rockets. And if you want rockets developed largely from scratch, look no further than SpaceX and their Falcon rocket (with soon upcoming Dragon spacecraft).

    Why cheer for irrelevance? Cheer for what actually matters.

    By the way -- I'm not sure the analogy with early aircraft is the one you're going for. Just ignoring how little capital it took to build an airplane versus what it takes to make an orbital spacecraft, you should realize that early airplanes suffered major crashes at very regular intervals. The pilots typically survived because the performance of said aircraft was so low. The first cross-country flight took weeks and involved dozens of crashes. For the first around-the-world race, the US strategically placed replacement parts and even entire replacement airplanes for its pilots to use.

    Even if that was an analogy you wanted to use, you should be comparing early aircraft with early rockets (V2, Redstone, etc), not with SS1 and their "repeat what's done decades ago in a way that we know damn well won't scale to anything". SS1 isn't developing new technology or pushing the envelope; they're making craft that don't advance anything except people's ability to have a joyride.

  • by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @02:04PM (#22155674)
    Say the 29' Mercedes was far more impressive technically than what Ford was putting out but how many straight 8 engines do you see used in cars today? The most cutting edge isn't always the most practical. Do we wait for warp technology for space flight or use chemical rockets to get the ball rolling? The Space Ship 2 is the Model T of space flight. That's not an insult it's a major compliment. The Model T was one of the most successful cars in history for good reason. This craft puts space flight not into the hands of the average person but potentially into the hands of large numbers of people. Henry Ford would give it a big thumbs up and we should all view it as the stepping stone it is.
  • Have to say (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MacarooMac ( 1222684 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @02:12PM (#22155780)
    I'm surprised at the amount of scepticism over this project, esp on /. Let's face it, commercial designs such as SS2 are the only way any of us down here will be getting 'up there' in our lifetime.

    FYI, from el Wiki: "More than 65,000 would-be space tourists have applied for the first batch of 100 tickets to be available. The price will initially be US$200,000. However, after the first 100 tickets are sold the price would be dropped to around $100,000. Then deposits after the first year will drop to around $20,000. The duration of the flight will be approximately 2.5 hours, and weekly launches are planned.

    In December 2007 Virgin Galactic had 200 paid-up applicants on its books for the early flights, and 95% were passing the necessary 6-8 g centrifuge tests"
  • by hador_nyc ( 903322 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @02:20PM (#22155896) Homepage

    So is your average bobble head doll manufacturer. And they're just as relevant to improving orbital spaceflight. If you want someone to cheer for, cheer for SpaceX, for Orbital Sciences, for SeaLaunch, for any of the private companies involved in *actual orbital spaceflight*.
    The problem with your logic is that you are missing the effects of changing the norm. Sure, like another commenter said in response to your comment, a Buick is not amazing, but it's reliability is compared to a Formula 1. The Shuttle is a Formula 1, so is SeaLaunch and the others. They aren't trying to move people on the scale and with the safety of these guys, but think if all the cars in the world were just race cars. This will change things; particularly, to continue my analogy, when SpaceShipTwo is basically the Model T. With the funds they will get from selling these trips to the public, sexy advances can be made; ones that I think the other companies will have difficulty keeping up with.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @02:28PM (#22156020)

    Production improvements of low ISP vehicles contribute absolutely nothing to high ISP vehicles. Production improvements of vehicles with minimal to no TPS contribute nothing to the serious TPS challenges of actual orbital vehicles. Virtually nothing about SS1 applies to the serious challenges involved in spaceflight.
    Here's my take. You are very wrong. Scaled Composites is carefully putting together that vehicle with the high ISP engine, the thermal protection system, and all those other challenges. It just hasn't starting designing it yet. There's a lot more to a vehicle than the vehicle itself. You need experienced designers, ground crew, and pilots. You need testing experience and infrastructure (note, for example, that SpaceShipTwo has its own flight simulator already). You need to gain experience in jumping the substantial bureaucratic hurdles for a manned space vehicle. You need to understand what the problems and challenges are before you design much less put the vehicle together. And you need to do all that without going bankrupt. What you are seeing is IMHO how a master would approach this problem. The key is incremental design. You don't make the orbital vehicle all at once with all those unknown pieces snapped together. You build up to it with progressively more sophisticated launch vehicles and extensive testing at each step. Unlike the other "alt.space" players like SpaceX, Blue Horizon, SpaceDev, etc, Scaled Composites probably turned a small profit with SpaceShipOne, its first space vehicle. And I bet it's turning a profit with SpaceShipTwo as well. If SpaceShipTwo doesn't get the hoped-for business, then Scaled Composites can walk away from it all. The thing that gets ignored is that Scaled Composites has economically one of the soundest projects in the space business.
  • Not really (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @02:34PM (#22156114) Journal
    Probably half or more of the posters here are from America. If you check a number of polls, many Americans believe that NASA has been a waste. Sadly, they also believe that Science is a waste. It comes down to the more that politicians declare that science projects like Genetic Engineering, Stem Cell research, Global Warming Research, etc is bad for the world (and America), then by extension, then RD efforts like NIH, CDC, and even NASA must be worthless. Out politicians are killing us. It is no wonder that we see our RD labs torn down.
  • by The One and Only ( 691315 ) * <[ten.hclewlihp] [ta] [lihp]> on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @02:39PM (#22156186) Homepage

    On a technical level you're right. But SS2 addresses a different problem. Once joyrides into space are sold, space tourism will be established as a market. Right now space tourism is a single-segment market: for several million dollars the Russians will sell you one of their spots on the space station. Aside from that, no one knows for sure how many people will pay how much money to go into space. If SpaceShipTwo is a commercial success, that decreases the risk and proves the potential return of investing in private space technology. That means more money to develop orbital technology and expand the market into yet a third segment, namely orbital tourism.

  • by ThreeGigs ( 239452 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @02:49PM (#22156366)
    relevant, orbital rocketry ...that can't land at an airport. Nor will passengers survive long in an unpressurized capsule with no life support. Getting there is only half the fun.

    Remember the Mercury and Gemini programs? You know, the ones we used to help us learn what it would take to get men to the moon and back, safely? They're taking STEPS, and you're complaining because they aren't jumping right to a space shuttle clone.

    SeaLaunch, Orbital Sciences, and SpaceX require extensive launch infrastructure. Tell one of them "There's a runway, let's see you launch in a week", and they couldn't do it.

  • Why do think... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Simian Road ( 1138739 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @02:55PM (#22156472)
    ...space has been declining in popularity? There was a time when the idea of Space Travel excited the entire country, nowadays people just dismiss it as a waste of money. As peoples interest in space decline, surprise surprise, so does NASA's budget.

    If you want to get more serious cutting edge space science done, then you need to make the whole concept popular again. That is why I think this whole Virgin Venture is worthwhile, not because it's an eccentric joyride for the rich.
  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @03:05PM (#22156646) Homepage
    Remember the Mercury and Gemini programs? You know, the ones we used to help us learn what it would take to get men to the moon and back, safely? They're taking STEPS, and you're complaining because they aren't jumping right to a space shuttle clone.

    Right. Because Mercury and Gemini were simply copying what people did half a century earlier except getting worse performance despite greatly improved technology at their disposal, in a method that's completely unscaleable to orbit.


    SeaLaunch, Orbital Sciences, and SpaceX require extensive launch infrastructure. Tell one of them "There's a runway, let's see you launch in a week", and they couldn't do it.

    Right. Because they're actually going to orbit. Why, exactly, aren't you understanding the order of magnitude greater difficulty in getting to orbit than a suborbital joyride? SS1 went 850m/s. Orbital velocity is 7,800m/s. Kinetic energy is proportional to the velocity squared. Amount of fuel/oxidizer needed to reach a given velocity is exponential, with the exponent based on your ISP -- and SS1/2 inherently have very low ISPs, which can't scale up because of the fuel/oxidizer choice (and changing would require completely reengineering the engines and tankage -- i.e., almost the entire craft).

    Are you starting to grasp the scale of how completely unlike actual orbital rocketry what they're doing is?
  • by hondo77 ( 324058 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @03:24PM (#22156928) Homepage
    Yes...except you need to subsitute "in addition to" for "rather than for".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @03:36PM (#22157118)
    Um, because maybe there isn't One True Path? Because what Scaled and VG learn in high-tempo (comparatively) operations from SS2 will be useful? Most importantly, because of the Catch-22 of truly low-cost spaceflight, namely that high launch rates are the key to low launch prices, which can only come about if there are enough customers willing to pay for many many flights in a year. If sub-orbital tourism turns out to be a success, the incentive for high-launch-rate systems will be that much greater. At that point, VG may not be able to capitalize on that as quickly as Space-X or Orbital. That's the risk they take in approaching the sector from this direction.

    In any case, I don't give a shit about who you choose to 'focus' on, which appears to be your primary whine on this thread.
  • by XNormal ( 8617 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @04:18PM (#22157854) Homepage
    > If you disagree with this statement, go ahead -- explain why you feel that a vehicle with this low delta-V, horrible ISP, and proportionally high mass that faces bare minimal reentry heating -- advances the state of the art.

    Other than contributions like feathered reentry I agree that it does very little to advance the state of the art.

    But that is precisely the point. The state of the art does not need much advancing. Everything we really need know in order to get into space has been known for a couple of decades and has advanced very little even with much bigger budgets thrown at it by governments around the world. What we need to advance is the state of practice and Scaled/Virgin is doing exactly that.

    Just one small example: an aircraft capable of carrying with proper ground clearance and safely dropping this size of load did not exist until now. It can be useful for many other applications like this one [airlaunchllc.com]. Does this advance the state of the art? Of course not. We've known such an aircraft can be built for well over half a century. But having this kind of aircraft actually available shaves many millions and a lot of risk from the budget of projects that need it. We all know these projects are facing lots of risks and are always underbudgeted so every little bit of help they can get really counts.

    So it has been funded by joyriders. Anything wrong with that? Would you rather fund such development with your tax dollars?
  • by putaro ( 235078 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @10:30PM (#22162474) Journal
    So what if it can't get to orbit? Can you name another craft that will do a sub-orbital pop-up like it does with multiple passengers?

    I think that the aerospace community has been way too fixated on making the perfect machine. It's just not possible in one go. Look at what happened to Venturestar. Instead of doing some intermediate, *flying* prototypes it was a big bang approach and they sunk how many billions into it? With *nothing* to show.

    SS2 won't make it to orbit. And, many of the technologies in it aren't relevant to making it to orbit. However, Scaled Composites is gaining a lot of knowledge about how to build rocket propelled craft, about how to build ferry craft and do air launches. Burt Rutan is one hell of an aerospace designer. When he's ready to build an orbital craft I would bet money on him to make it happen.
  • by The Breeze ( 140484 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @10:51PM (#22162652) Homepage

    Infrastructure and corporate organization comes first.

    Here's a good analogy. It's the early days of aviation, and you want a plane that can cross the Atlantic in 8 hours. No plane can cross the Atlantic at all at that point in time. What do you do? If you are bound by economic reality, you realize that if you build a functioning route structure with existing tech, and build it with future development in mind, it will be less of a jump from that than simply magically building a plane.

    Continental airlines started flying mail and one or two passengers. Using that, over a couple of decades they built a route structure and employee organization that could barely - just barely - support the purchase of four jets. It worked. Prior to that, everyone said "you can never, ever run jets at a profit unless you have a fleet of at least ten." Continental did it. They made it profitable. And it never would have happened if Bob Six, CEO of Continental, had just showed up with a pile of cash saying "I want to build jets."

    All the scientific people who are posting stuff on here about why "Scaled Composites doesn't make sense" don't get it. They think that aircraft fly because of Bernoulii's principle, they think that physics and technology make rockets and aircraft fly.

    In reality, aircraft and rockets and spacecraft fly on money. Or, as the movie "The Right Stuff" pointed out, "no bucks, no Buck Rogers!"

    Scaled Composites thinks that if they build a gradual business that provides enough excitement and entertainment that people want more then they might be able to use that ground infrastructure to build something better. They think that the next logical step after that, perhaps, will be sub-orbital hops to Europe and Japan. And then, when some big business realises there's something that might be profitable to do in orbit, Scaled Composites will step forward and say "We can build something like that. When do you need it?"

    And, big business will listen, and treat them seriously...because well, hell, that company has been in business for a while and they build spaceships, they have shipping product so to speak, we're just asking them to build a bigger one.

    Money is all.

If it is a Miracle, any sort of evidence will answer, but if it is a Fact, proof is necessary. -- Samuel Clemens