Type: suborbital commercial spaceplane
Significant date: 2007 (planned first flight)
The offers to sell sub-orbital spaceflights to government organizations and private agencies and individuals were pouring in even before SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize competition. Though Rutan and his partner - Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen - would like to make money from their investment, they have something bigger in mind: SpaceShipTwo, a commercial, passenger-carrying spaceliner.
The SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane is a currently under development by The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group of the UK. The Virgin Galactic spaceline plans to operate a fleet of five of these craft in passenger-carrying private spaceflight service starting in 2008. The first spacecraft to be completed will be named VSS (Virgin Space Ship) Enterprise in honor of the Starship Enterprise, and have the FAA registration number N400K (refers to the target altitude of 400,000 feet, or approx. 76 miles).
The SpaceShipTwo craft is based on technology developed for SpaceShipOne as part of the Scaled Composites Tier One program, funded by Paul Allen. The Spaceship Company is licensing this technology from Paul Allen's Mojave Aerospace Ventures. According to an interview with designer Burt Rutan, the new craft will fly higher and have a longer downrange than SpaceShipOne, 100 or 200 miles. The maximum capacity will be seven paying passengers with the assistance of two pilots.
The BBC reports that SpaceShipTwo's crew cabin will have about the same diameter as a Gulfstream V business jet, which is roughly 6 feet high and 7 feet wide. Rutan is designing towards a maximum altitude of between 84 and 87 miles (135-140 km). The design of these craft was completed in late 2005, and the vehicle simulator was complete and construction had started by March 2006. The vehicle will not be unveiled to the public until just before flight testing starts, in late 2007. Following a series of 50-100 test flights, the first paying customers are expected to fly aboard the craft in late 2008. Burt Rutan, as well as Richard Branson, Virgin's eclectic chairman, say they will be aboard, though in the case of Rutan, health issues might prevent the ride.
Both SpaceShipTwo and its new carrier aircraft, Eve (or White Knight Two), will be roughly twice the size of the first generation spacecraft and mothership that won the Ansari X Prize. While details remain scant, designer Burt Rutan says that SpaceShipTwo will have extremely large porthole windows for the passengers' viewing pleasure, and all seats will recline back during launch to help decrease the discomfort of G-forces. All passengers will be allowed to fly without the aid of pressure suits (unlike NASA astronauts) and the experience will be similar to a high-altitude passenger jet. Reportedly "catastrophic damage" to the vehicle will still result in a safe landing.
According to a December 2005 interview with Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson, the SpaceShipTwo craft will initially take off from the Mojave Spaceport in California. Southwest Regional Spaceport, a $200 million spaceport in New Mexico partly funded by the state government, will become the permanent launch site starting in 2009. The company has also shown interest in building spaceports in other parts of the world, including Florida, Saudi Arabia and Scotland. However, the likelihood of these other launching points depends on the success of the initial spaceports in Mojave and New Mexico.
In August 2005, the president of space tourism company Virgin Galactic stated that if the upcoming suborbital service with SpaceShipTwo is successful, the follow-up SpaceShipThree will be an orbital craft. Branson added that profits from Virgin Galactic will be re-invested in space tourism development. Virgin's agreement with Rutan and Allen is not exclusive, however. Mojave Aerospace Ventures, the partnership created to develop SpaceShipOne and related projects, is considering offers from four or five other companies as well, Rutan said.
Population: not built [fake registration "N400K" quoted]
(NOTE: All specifications below provisional and approximate)
Crew/passengers: 2 pilots and 7 passengers