Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Sees Sunlight for the First Time (Gallery)

Sir Richard Branson and designer Burt Rutan walk aside the Virgin Mothership "Eve" (VMS EVE) in Mojave, CA. on the eve of its official rollout on July 28, 2008 (Virgin Galactic)

Early this morning in the Californian Mojave Desert, Richard Branson and Burt Rutan unveiled the completed Virgin Galactic Mothership “Eve,” the first time this highly secretive project has seen the light of day. This is a significant moment for both Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, the company that built Eve, as it shows space tourism is only a heartbeat away. Now we await the completion of SpaceShipTwo that is expected to begin test flights with Eve by 2009.

The rollout represents another major milestone in Virgin Galactic’s quest to launch the world’s first private, environmentally benign, space access system for people, payload and science. – Virgin Galactic rollout press release (July 28th).

Eve is towed onto the airstrip at Mojave Air and Space Port (Virgin Galactic)
Eve is towed onto the airstrip at Mojave Air and Space Port (Virgin Galactic)

Eve is a large aircraft, with a wing span of 140 feet (42.7 meters), constructed from the world’s longest single carbon composite aviation component ever manufactured. Eve is basically a flying wing with two fuselages plus four efficient Pratt and Whitney PW308A engines attached. During operational flight sometime late 2009 or early 2010, it is hoped the mother ship will fly four times a day, carrying SpaceShipTwo up to 50,000 ft (9.5 miles) high. Once the aircraft reaches 50,000 ft, the spaceship will detach and ignite its rocket engines, blasting six fee-paying space tourists and two pilots to an altitude of around 360,000 feet (68 miles). This is considered to be the edge of space, allowing the SpaceShipTwo occupants five minutes of weightlessness before starting their journey back to Earth.

The cockpit of Eve (Virgin Galactic)
The cockpit of Eve (Virgin Galactic)

Today’s rollout onto the airstrip of Mojave Air and Space Port was witnessed by government officials, business partners and the future Virgin Galactic space tourists. Eve, named in honour of Branson’s mother, is the first WhiteKnightTwo aircraft of two that are on order with Scaled Composites. A total of five SpaceShipTwo’s are expected to complete the fleet.

Eve in the hangar (Virgin Galactic)
Eve in the hangar (Virgin Galactic)

Today’s press release also states: “Driven by a demanding performance specification set by Virgin Galactic, WhiteKnightTwo has a unique heavy lift, high altitude capability and an open architecture driven design which provides for maximum versatility in the weight, mass and volume of its payload potential. It has the power, strength and maneuverability to provide for pre space-flight, positive G force and zero G astronaut training as well as a lift capability which is over 30% greater than that represented by a fully crewed SpaceShipTwo.”

Artist impression of Eve dropping SpaceShipTwo at an altitude of 50,000 ft (Virgin Galactic)
Artist impression of Eve dropping SpaceShipTwo at an altitude of 50,000 ft (Virgin Galactic)

Fights with Virgin Galactic currently cost a hefty $200,000, but this ticket price is likely to fall in time. Over 200 tickets have already been sold. Initially, the company is offering sub-orbital space flights, but eventually Branson wants to push one stage further and begin offering tourists orbital space flight. The entrepreneur has even more optimistic ideas for his future space tourist empire including sending people into space during an aurora, space hotels and trips to the Moon. To be honest, I’d be excited to try out that rocket ride into space after the leisurely flight attached to WhiteKnightTwo

Sources: Virgin Galactic, ITWire

A Match Made in Space

Rocketplane XP spaceplane. Credit: Rocketplane

Rocketplane Global has announced they will be offering the opportunity for people to get married in space. On their upcoming planned suborbital flights, the space tourism company is making available specialty charter flights that include space wedding ceremonies. Billed as “the ultimate high-end celebrity wedding,” the package was first un”veiled” in Japan earlier this month by Rocketplane Japan and First Advantage Travel. With the shirtsleeve cabin environment of the XP spaceplane and its redundant life support systems, the wedding party can wear clothing of their own choosing. No need for “bulky helmets or pressure suits which would detract from the beauty of the ceremony and of course the Wedding Kiss,” said the press release. No mention if the happy couples can then become part of the 60 Mile High Club.

Rocketplane’s press release didn’t provide the price, and the website listed for further information is in Japanese, but Rocketplane’s suggested retail price on their first flights to space is $250,000 a person, so the cost for a bride, groom and wedding party would likely be astronomical, no pun intended.

Reportedly, the special wedding charter flight package includes the actual wedding ceremony in space for the bride, groom and three guests, the space marriage license and certificates, an original wedding dress, full picture and video coverage of the wedding flight and a live broadcast of the ceremony to the ground, premium hotels and transportation, and an original website developed for the wedding customers. Additional options include a space theme honeymoon in Hawaii with chartered jet transportation and a complete VIP lodging and activities package and private tour of the observatories on Mauna Kea.


One couple from the US has already signed up for the first space wedding. Check out their website, which says they are planning to be married in 2010.

Rocketplane CEO George French said this package shows how the Rocketplane XP spaceplane can be adapted for a wide variety of unique and special uses. “We are developing a variety of additional charter flight packages involving artists, media and cultural themes as well as additional corporate promotional campaigns,” he said.

While cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko got married via radio communication while he was on board the International Space Station (his fiancé was on Earth) no wedding ceremony has yet been performed with both the bride and groom in space.

Misuzu Onuki, Rocketplane’s Director of Asian Business Development said, “I believe that the wedding is one of the most important events in our lives, and getting married in the place closest to Heaven will be very appealing and be a key factor in the development of space tourism.”

Additional ways these charter flights could be used if for microgravity research payloads placed in racks with the scientists who developed the payload flying the mission and operating the experiments from on board. Also planned are Teacher in Space flights, which could include one or two teachers and dozens of student microgravity science experiments. A Japanese newspaper is sponsoring a contest for a Teacher in Space flight on board a Rocketplane flight.

Original News Source: Rocketplane Press Release

Space Hotel Prototype Makes 10,000th Orbit

A view from the Bigelow prototype (Bigelow Aerospace)

After 660 days in space and 10,000 orbits around Earth, the pioneering inflatable prototype is still going strong. Launched atop a converted intercontinental ballistic missile on July 12th, 2006, the Bigelow Aerospace vision for a space hotel is gradually being realized. The first test was to see whether the design could self-inflate and carry out basic operations automatically, but after nearly two years of travelling 270 million miles (435 million kliometers), the prototype has surpassed all expectations and provides an excellent foundation for the company’s first manned mission in 2011…

Bigelow Aerospace, based in Las Vegas, Nevada, has some huge aspirations. The company was founded in 1999 by hotelier Robert Bigelow in the aim to be the forerunner in the future of space commerce and space hotel designs. In a statement on their project website, the company states, “Bigelow Aerospace is dedicated to developing next-generation crewed space complexes to revolutionize space commerce and open up the final frontier to all of humanity“. Well, it seems the frontier has come a little bit closer after today’s announcement that Genesis I, an unmanned prototype of an inflatable space vessel, has just completed its 10,000th orbit around the Earth.

The company is exploiting an old NASA concept, to keep launch mass and size low, but optimize volume in space. The expandable module concept has a structure that uses a flexible outer shell that allows the module to be “unpacked” or inflated once inserted into orbit. Having an inflatable module may conjure up thoughts of flimsiness or weakness – this is obviously not the case as the prototype pushes on after two years of tests. The inflatable design also allows for a larger volume for astronauts to work and live it, with obvious applications for space tourism and orbital hotels. At first, the expandable module was proposed and designed by NASA for the “Transhab Program”, but it was cancelled, allowing Bigelow Aerospace to take over the project and become sole producer of NASA’s expandable module technologies.

The Sundancer habitable module, by as early as 2011 - artists impression (Bigelow Aerospace)

Genesis I was followed by the launch of Genesis II in June 2007. Genesis II is also functioning as designed, but today belongs to the older vehicle. The Genesis prototypes measure 14 feet (4.4 meters) in length and 8 feet (2.5 meters) in diameter; they are one-third scale versions of the company’s future BA-330 modules to be used for manned missions.

In addition to this landmark 10,000th orbit, Genesis 1 has taken over 14,000 images and its highly efficient solar panels have provided continuous power to the ship for 15,840 hours.

Around 2011, Bigelow Aerospace hopes to establish its first crewed space station with its Sundancer module (pictured).

Sources: Bigalow Aerospace,

Branson to be the First to Marry Couples in Space

Artist impression of SpaceShipTwo (Virgin Galactic)

He’s married a couple on board a Virgin America jet, he’s also officiated the marriage of Google’s co-founder Larry Page on his private island in the Caribbean, now Richard Branson wants to marry couples as they reach the apex of their Virgin Galactic flights into space. The British billionaire already has two wedding-related bookings, one marriage and one honeymoon, and it is hoped he will obtain a licence to conduct the ceremonies for more. Certainly unique, but I wonder how popular getting hitched in zero gravity will be…

Richard Branson has broken many records. Not only has he developed one of the largest corporations in the world, he has many personal records under his belt. In 1986, he broke the record for crossing the Atlantic in a powerboat; in 1991 he crossed the Pacific in a balloon, again, breaking all records. He also has experience with weddings. He was ordained for a day last year to marry Virgin America marketing director Dimitrios Papadognonas and Coco Jones on a flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas. So now he wants to combine these two accolades: Break the record for the highest-altitude wedding, officiating the ceremony himself. What’s more, he already has his first booking.

Richard Branson (

The world’s first space-honeymoon belongs to Virgin Galactic advisor George Whitesides and his fiancée Loretta Hidalgo. They have reserved tickets for the Virgin Galactic maiden flight, costing $100,000 each. As for the wedding, the couple who have reserved their tickets remain unknown. It is hoped however that Branson will be there to talk them through their vows:

We have had two bookings involving marriage, one to get married in space and the other for the couple to have their honeymoon in space. It is possible that Richard could obtain a licence to conduct the marriage.” – Virgin Galactic spokesman

Virgin Galactic already has 200 people booked to fly into space proving there is a market for space tourism out there. Construction of SpaceShipTwo has already begun and the first test flights are expected to commence in 2009.

If you have the cash and want the wedding you’ll never forget, this might be the answer to the millionaires out there. For me, the risk of feeling a bit queasy after the stag party the night before might be enough to ground me from taking any risks in zero-G…

Source: Daily Mail (UK)

Finally, A Sport for Geeks: Rocket Racing League Announces First Live Exhibition

Combining the exhilaration of racing, with the power of rocket engines and the appeal of video gaming, Rocket Racing League (RRL) CEO Granger Whitelaw said the new sports entertainment league is the sport for geeks. “We haven’t really had a sport, but now we do,” said Whitelaw, a self-professed geek at a press conference on April 14, 2008. “We now have one where we combine real athletes and real heroes with rocket planes and with gaming that we love to do so much.” At the press conference, members of the RRL announced its live first exhibition, to be held August 1st and 2nd at the EAA AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, one of the largest airshows in the world. Additional exhibitions later in the year were also announced.

Whitelaw said in this new “futuristic and innovative sport” pilots will race rocket powered aircraft through a three-dimensional track in the sky. The planes will compete side by side, and feature multiple races pitting up to ten Rocket Racers with a 4-lap, multiple elimination heat format on a 5-mile “Formula One”-like closed circuit raceway. The Rocket Racer pilots will view the “raceway in the sky” via cockpit in-panel and 3D helmet displays. On the ground, spectators at airshows can watch the action live, or on screens that include the 3-D raceway. And in this ultimate reality show, viewers at home can watch on television, and gamers can take part with virtual competition.

In August, for the first exhibition, two Rocket Racers will compete head-to-head in a demonstration race and the expected 700,000 people in attendance at EAA AirVenture will witness the racing action live on multiple 50 foot large projection screens.

The RRL will have multiple aerial cameras and 5 cameras on each plane.

Whitelaw said that although they believe their rocket planes are some of the safest air vehicles available, they will take multiple precautions to ensure crowd safety at the live events, specifically, never flying directly at the crowds. “Every step we are taking with the development of the rocket racers now, involves safety considerations,” Whitelaw said.

Each of the four heats will last about 10-12 minutes, with pitstops of 10-12 minutes. “It will similar to periods in hockey or football, and will give us time to do color and introduce the pilots,” said Whitelaw. The RRL will be better than football, he said, which only has about seven minutes of real action in a game with the rest being just talk. “It will be very exciting and it will be all about competition.”

Whitelaw said the RRL has been offered two television deals, and that all the competitions will be televised. “We are going to reach out to different audiences, both in the US and worldwide,” he said.

Whitelaw predicted the RRL video game will also be a big success. The RRL built a video game simulator 2 years ago that they have set up at air shows for people to try. “The tent is usually full all day with young and old alike…this is really going to bring out a new fan base,” Whitelaw said. The full video game won’t be released until the league is actually in operation.

Here are the remaining exhibition dates:

Reno National Championship Air Races (Reno, NV) – September 10-14
X Prize Cup (Las Cruces, NM) – TBD 2008
Aviation Nation, Nellis AFB, (Las Vegas, NV) – November 8-9

In these days of environmental concerns, Whilelaw was asked about the types of fuel used in the rocket planes. “I like to say that 95% of our fuel grows on trees,” he said. “We use cryogenic compressed liquid oxygen for the main part of the thrust for the rocket planes. The Armadillo plane uses ethanol. The X-COR rocket racer uses kerosene. We’re trying to be environmentally friendly as possible.”

The RRL was founded in 2005 by Whitelaw, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winning team partner and X PRIZE Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis. For more information on the Rocket Racing League, visit

Original News Source: RRL Press Conference

Under Construction: SpaceShipTwo, on Course for 2009 Testflight (Pictures)


It is really taking shape. The future of Virgin Galactic’s fleet of space tourism rockets is currently forming in a non-descript factory in the Mojave Desert, California. As if to prove that the Scaled Composite-design is not a pipe dream, pictures of the first commercial spaceflight vehicle have been released. It looks fairly crude and welded together, but this forms the bare bones of the worlds first viable hi-tech space tourism vehicle. All it needs now are some windows, seats, wings and an engine and we’re good to go!

Scaled Composites owner, Burt Rutan inside the next SpaceShipTwo (credit: Scaled Composites)
It is as if Scaled Composites wanted to trump their competitor’s cards with proof that the SpaceShipTwo design is more than just a concept. It seems that everyone is claiming a portion of the space tourism industry, including economy class. Nancy covered XCOR’s press release (26th March) that the company was designing a smaller, cheaper, economy-class space plane, designed to take two people into low-Earth orbit (note: lower Earth orbit than Virgin Galactic’s design). Even the rocket builder Astrium has gotten in on the act, claiming that there will be a market for their mass-produced conventional space plane (18th March), releasing some uber-cool images and simulations of the craft in action.

The SpaceShipTwo production line (credit: Scaled Composites)

So the economy-class market has been claimed by XCOR and Astrium has grabbed the “AirBus-in-space” mass-production market. But in the aim to prove that “the original and the best” concept is actually growing beyond the design phase and in full production, Scaled Composites are proving that their spaceship is one step closer than all their competitors: they’re building their spaceship right now.

To rub it in, one photo shows Burt Rutan sitting proudly inside the shell of the SpaceShipTwo cockpit proving they are accelerating production toward a 2009 test-run. These new images are from the production line in a factory in the Californian Mojave Desert.

The finished product. Artist impression of SpaceShipTwo (credit: Virgin Galactic)

SpaceShipTwo will carry six people into the lower limit of space and will experience a few minutes of weightlessness. The craft will be helped on its way by the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, giving the rocket a piggyback ride to 50,000 ft. At this height, SpaceShipTwo will be released and its rockets will blast to life taking the first tourists into space. You can find out more about SpaceShipTwo in a previous Universe Today story.

Source: Popular Mechanics

XCOR: Economy Class Space Tourism?


XCOR Aerospace has thrown its hat into the space tourism ring, unveiling its two-seat suborbital spaceship, the Lynx. With its first flights scheduled for 2010, XCOR’s projected price per ticket will be half of what other suborbital companies like Virgin Galactic and Rocketplane are charging. But the Lynx’s flight will also be about half the duration and about two-thirds the altitude of the other companies. At $100,000, a seat on the Lynx is not exactly cheap, but its possible this lower price could cause a price war with the other space tourism companies, which is good news for anyone considering taking a suborbital flight.

“XCOR’s mission is to radically lower the cost of spaceflight, because affordable access to space for everyone means far more than breathtaking views and the freedom of weightlessness,” said XCOR CEO Jeff Greason.

The spaceship, roughly the size of a small private airplane, will be capable of flying several times each day. The Lynx will carry a pilot and one passenger at twice the speed of sound to about 60 km (37 miles) above the Earth. The entire flight would last about a half an hour, with 2 minutes of zero gravity. It will take off and land like an airplane at a conventional airport, and use clean-burning, fully reusable, liquid-fuel rocket engines to reach Mach 2.

“We have designed this vehicle to operate much like a commercial aircraft. Its liquid fuel engines will provide the enhanced safety, durability, reliability and maintainability that keep operating costs low,” said Greason. “These engines will also minimize the impact of these flights on the environment. They are fully reusable, burn cleanly, and release fewer particulates than solid fuel or hybrid rocket motors.”

“Lynx will be the ‘Greatest Ride Off Earth,’” said XCOR test pilot, former NASA astronaut and Space Shuttle commander, Col. Rick Searfoss. “The acceleration, the weightlessness, and the view will provide you with an experience that is out of this world. And the best part of it all is that you’ll ride right up front, like a co-pilot, instead of in back, like cargo.”

Here’s XCOR’s You Tube video for a preview of what the flight will be like:

XCOR also announced that the company has won Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II contract with the US Air Force to develop and test operationally responsive features of one of the firm’s commercial vehicles.

For more about XCOR.

Original News Source: XCOR Press Release

Astrium Unveils New Spaceship Plans (Video Simulation & Pictures)

Europe’s leading spacecraft manufacturer EADS Astrium, the builders of the Ariane rocket (that launches many of Europe’s space missions), has announced plans to mass produce the next generation of space planes. Developing the design of a single-stage “rocket plane”, the company believes there will be a demand for 10 spacecraft per year when the space tourism idea “takes off”. Astrium won’t be running tourist trips themselves; they will simply supply the hardware to space tourism companies predicting the industry will progress along the same lines of a classical aeronautical business model. Astrium has even released an excellent and inspiring (and realistic!) promotional video simulation of the spacecraft launch and view of space…

The Astrium Jet takes off like a conventional aircraft, artists impression (credit: Astrium/Marc Newson Ltd.)
Astrium has big plans. As space tourism companies begin to emerge, like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the technology capable of taking tourists above 100 km into the threshold of space is developing at an accelerated rate.

At first glance, the new Astrium concept looks just like a conventional jet, but this aircraft is different. For the first part of the journey high into Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft uses conventional jets (that require oxygen to function). At about 12 km, the jets will be rendered useless as atmospheric oxygen begins to thin out. At this point rocket engines, supplied by onboard tanks of oxygen and methane, will rumble into operation blasting the craft vertically into space at high velocity. The spacecraft will have covered 60 km in 80 seconds and will have enough momentum to continue into space, breaching the 100 km “lower limit” of space.

The Astrium rocket blasts the craft from 12km to 100km into space - artist impression (credit: Astrium/Marc Newson)

Watch the Astrium simulation of a trip on board the spacecraft.

Astrium forecasts a healthy market for their space planes, and although it won’t be in the same league as Boeing or Airbus, it will be a big step for space tourism.

One of the big players in the space tourism market will be Virgin Galactic. Virgin’s business plan is to sell tourist flights as well as develop and maintain their own spacecraft (by partnering with Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites). Astrium’s plans are a lot simpler. They will manufacture the space planes and sell them to space tourism companies. Assuming a similar pattern to classical aerospace business models, there could be many tourist carriers using the same Astrium-class spacecraft.

It will develop towards a classical aeronautical business model. Someone will build the planes; somebody will operate them; somebody will sell the tickets; somebody will provide the accommodation – like any tourism.” – Robert Laine, chief technical officer (CTO) of EADS (Astrium)

The Astrium craft in space - artist impression (credit: Astrium/Marc Newson)

Speaking in London at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, delivering the 99th Kelvin Lecture, Robert Laine, CTO of EADS (Astrium), outlined Astrium’s plan for the future. According to Laine, Astrium’s new space plane is developing quickly, and the aerodynamic structure is undergoing final wind tunnel tests. The Romeo rocket engine has been successful in advanced tests, and has run for 31 seconds. To provide the craft with enough boost to leave the Earth’s atmosphere, it will need to burn for 80 seconds. The oxygen-methane fuel engine will give the spacecraft a high enough velocity (1 km/s) to exit the atmosphere.

Weightlessness inside the Astrium spaceship - artist impression (credit: Astrium/Marc Newson)

About 50% of the starting mass of the plane will be fuel. The preliminary design will have enough room for five people – four tourists, one pilot.

Ultimately the Astrium design is hoped to have a lifetime of 10 years and will be easy to maintain. What makes this design even more interesting is its conventional take-off and landing, plus there is no requirement for a launch vehicle. The craft could be used in conventional airports, but Astrium believes custom-made spaceports will be a better solution to avoid busy air traffic. Laine believes that the Astrium spacecraft can be fully operational within five years of a financing deal being signed.

The spacecraft begins its descent to Earth (credit: Astrium/Marc Newson)

Although weightlessness is only likely to be three minutes long, the two hour round trip will certainly be exhilarating. The three-G acceleration as the rocket engines kick in will be worth the trip alone!

Keep an eye on Astrium, they may be a close second to manufacturing a space tourist craft after Richard Branson…

Source: BBC

British Engineers Design Hypersonic Passenger Jet

A British engineering company has stepped into the commercial spaceflight arena with an ambitious and inspiring design of a possible airliner of the future. The A2, the design behind the Long-Term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies (LAPCAT) project, will carry 300 passengers, will have a range of 20,000 km and will be capable of travelling twice the speed of Concorde – that’s a sustained velocity of Mach 5. It will also be capable of atmospheric and space flight leading to the exciting possibility of becoming a large vehicle shuttling passengers, astronauts and payloads into orbit…

As private enterprise is beginning to see the possibility of profit in spaceflight, more and more rocket, spaceship and aircraft designs are being realised beyond the realms of science fiction. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX bear testament to the opportunities that await commercial transport into space. While Branson’s SpaceShipTwo concept uses a conventional WhiteKnight aircraft to “piggyback” until a maximum altitude is reached before it’s rocket engines propel it into space, Musk’s program depends on the ballistic approach, sending his Falcon rocket into space via a conventional rocket launchpad. The A2 concept is different as it will take off and land like a passenger jet without the need to be helped on its way by another aircraft.

The A2 in flight (Credit: Reaction Engines Ltd.)

The A2 is an impressive looking craft, and the claim that it may be able to sustain hypersonic flight is impressive. Currently, only astronauts leaving or re-entering the atmosphere travel at hyper sonic velocities, no aircraft is capable of such speeds within the Earth’s atmosphere. Mach 5 is the speed at which large amounts of heating occurs on an aircraft’s body, temperatures in excess of 1,800° F (1,000° C), so the engineering of hypersonic aircraft must be sufficiently advanced to protect passengers and aircraft structure from this extreme environment.

The A2 is intended to travel at Mach 5 within the atmosphere so it can enter low Earth orbit, giving it the ability to carry out orbital tasks as well as travelling to international destinations very quickly. It is hoped the A2 will travel from Europe to Australia within four hours. Reaction Engines Ltd. project the A2 will be in full production within 25 years.

The A2 will be able to do this through the use of Scimitar Engines – fueled by huge amounts of hydrogen (indeed, most of the aircraft fuselage will contain the fuel to feed the four engines slung under its wings) – that are designed around existing gas turbine, rocket and subsonic ramjet technology.

See more about the A2 design at Reaction Engines Ltd.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic Unveils SpaceShipTwo

Your trip to space is just around the corner now. In the next step in its goal of sending regular folk to space, Virgin Galactic today unveiled the vehicle that’s going to take them there: SpaceShipTwo. The announcement was made today at a press conference at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Actually, there were two vehicles revealed today: SpaceShipTwo, which will carry passengers on a suborbital trip into space, and the WhiteKnightTwo carrier.

The design, of course, is based on Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne vehicle, which won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in October 2004.

According to Virgin Galactic, the WhiteKnightTwo mothership is almost complete, and should be ready for testing in summer, 2008. Once completed, it should be the world’s largest all carbon composite aircraft, capable of lifting SpaceShipTwo to high altitude.

Unlike SpaceShipOne, which had room for the pilot and two passengers, SpaceShipTwo will have room for eight paying passengers. Currently, the spacecraft is about 60% complete. Passengers will spent about 2.5 hours in the air, with about 5 minutes of actual weightlessness.
There are some more differences. WhiteKnightTwo has an extra crew cabin; a recreation of the one inside SpaceShipTwo. This will give passengers a chance to experience a little taste of what the complete trip will be like. As part of its flight plan, WhiteKnightTwo spend some time taking a parabolic flight path – like NASA’s vomit comet – to give those passengers a little bit of weightlessness too.

The company says it’s already booked 200 people, with another 85,000 registrations of interest to fly. In fact, 80 of SpaceShipTwo’s potential passengers have already been through medical assessment and centrifuge training at a special facility in Philadelphia.

Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic, was, of course, bubbling and enthusiastic in the press release: “The designs of both the mothership and the new spaceship are absolutely beautiful and surpass any expectations for the future of commercial spaceflight that we had when first registering the name Virgin Galactic in 1999. Burt and his team have done a fantastic job and I am also delighted with the wonderful vision that Foster and Partners, working with URS, have shown in the final designs for Spaceport America in New Mexico. Finally, we are all very excited about the prospect of being able to develop a bio-fuel solution for the space launch system and we are looking forward to working with Pratt and Whitney and Virgin Fuels to trial an appropriate bio mix for the PW308A engines that will be powering our new carrier aircraft.”

If all goes well, the first passengers will blast off on their suborbital journey in 2009.
Flight Process
Here’s a special treat. You can access all the press images if you like, to see all the different photographs released today.

Original Source: Virgin Galactic