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Space Science Technology

Virgin Galactic Unveils SpaceShipTwo 260

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 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 Anonymous Coward on Monday December 07, 2009 @03:54PM (#30356926)
    Wikipedia tells me that there have been 15 "HMS Enterprise" in the British Royal Navy, and 4 others without "HMS". There have been six "USS Enterprise" in the American navy, and 2 others without "USS". There have been 6 other notable ships called "Enterprise". There is a *type* of boat called enterprise, as well as a type of hot air balloon. There was a Space Shuttle Enterprise.

    But of course someone who *wasn't* a geek would think they were going for the fictional one.
  • by Tekfactory ( 937086 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:03PM (#30357046) Homepage

    We have insufficient Astromech Droid technology to name anything the Ebon Hawk.

  • 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.

  • Re:Whodathunk (Score:2, Informative)

    by BlackSnake112 ( 912158 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:28PM (#30357322)

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:33PM (#30357368)

    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.

    The tails are far enough apart to keep from interfering with each other. They're controlled by fly-by-wire, so there's little risk of control rods getting misaligned and causing the rudders or elevators to point different directions. Also, the WK2 won't be engaging in air combat maneuvering, unlike the F--82 and P-38, so you don't have to worry about high loading and large torques across the aircraft causing the fuselages to point in different directions (at least more than the fly-by-wire can compensate for). Also, for point of reference, WK1 didn't have connected tails either.

    Nothing to see here.

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:42PM (#30357478) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 07, 2009 @04:46PM (#30357514)

    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 []

  • 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 []. 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.

  • by confused one ( 671304 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @05:21PM (#30357916)

    The same argument, circa late 16th and early 17th century:

    I mean seriously, dragging a person across the ocean, water, food, etc. That's a major waste of time and effort. Want to invest, invest in the people who rightly put to sea and run trade vessels around Africa and into the Indian Ocean. The rest is just for fools.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 07, 2009 @06:15PM (#30358478)
    weight of canister with gas - weight of canister without gas= weight of the gas

  • by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @06:28PM (#30358638)

    But what indication is there that it will have a safety rate like that? If you consider safety as rough function of amount of energy/person required (a reasonable assumption) it falls pretty squarely between orbital vehicles and commercial craft. Add in that the participants are spending far more per person, the failure rate can probably be brought down to where commercial airliners are.

    More specifically, consider the two failure modes of the shuttle: an SRB that bursts at the joint due to schedule rush and unsafe conditions, and a falling piece of foam that damages the heating tiles.
    1. SS2 has a much smaller motor, making it easy to safeguard. Also, the passengers aren't going to push to launch when the engineers are telling them the engine might explode if they go now.
    2. There are no re-entry tiles, because the entry speed is so much lower. Re-entry and landing is better approximated by an small plane than by a spacecraft. Most of the danger in orbital re-entry comes from dissipating the orbital speed as heat. Also, there arent the same aerodynamic pressures on SS2 as it takes off, making it less likely for that kind of impact to happen in the first place.

    While it is true that it is the unexpected failure modes you have to worry about, the order of magnitude reduction in launch energy suggests that you'd have to have a really big problem to kill the passengers -- as opposed to an orbital vehicle where small problems can be catastrophic if unnoticed.

  • by LenE ( 29922 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @07:16PM (#30359178) Homepage

    WK2 is not fly-by-wire. In fact there is no hydraulic boost, even. Its control surfaces are all human powered by long composite cables.

    The WK2 is also fully aerobatic, so it will see high loadings. It was designed for them.

    Disclaimer - I work at Scaled Composites, and I am not at liberty to discuss any proprietary information. The information provided above is publicly acknowledged and available from other sources.

    -- Len

A committee is a group that keeps the minutes and loses hours. -- Milton Berle