Antelope Valley is adding more high tech to its Solar and Wind technology, and Stealth Bomber Testing. Virgin Galactic unveils Enterprise-SpaceShipTwo as its first of five potential suborbital planes. SpaceShipTwo measures 60 feet long and it is intended to carry two pilots and six passengers, who will pay for a 2 1/2 hour flight into suborbital space, to experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth.
The unveiling is a first look at space tourism and was attended by some of the 300 or so potential passengers who have already put down a deposit of $20,000 toward the $200,000 outlay. It took place in California's Mojave Desert at the Mojave Air and Space Port in the center of Mojave, Ca. between Hwy 14 and Hwy 58 and just north of Edward Airforce Base. It is a test site for new aircraft technology, and near an array of mothballed aircraft seen on the horizon. The audience included Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Princess Beatrice, and Sir Richard Branson "This will be the start of commercial space travel."You become the astronaut." Branson said.
SpaceShipTwo uses all the same basic technology, carbon composite construction and design as the first version SpaceShipOne, but it is around twice as large as that vehicle. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows, one side window and one overhead, so that, if you don't want to float free in space, and you'd rather just remain in your seat, you still get a great chance to see the view.
According to Virgin Galactics website the mothership WhiteKnightTwo-Eve and SpaceShipTwo were designed by Burt Rutan, since SpaceShipTwo is larger then the mothership which was also enlarged with two fuselages with a long undercarriage. Both of WhiteKnightTwo's fuselages have a dihedral wing and the spaceship will be placed centrally between them, where the wing tips are joined at the highest point of the elongated 'W-shape' wing. With its fuselages some 50ft apart, WhiteKnightTwo's payload area is large and readily accessible from the ground.
News sources indicate that flight testing is expected to begin early next year. First flights will be captive carry flights with SpaceShipTwo staying attached to WhiteKnightTwo. After that the flight test team will begin glide flights in SpaceShipTwo and eventually powered flights with the rocket motor. Once flight testing is complete and the government regulations have been met, Virgin Galactic plans to regularly fly passengers into space from the company’s New Mexico space port. The $450 million project will eventually see six commercial vessels shuttling into space. The Enterprise-SpaceShipTwo will be carried to an altitude of 11 miles by a twin-hulled Mothership called WhiteKnightTwo-Eve, named after Sir Richard's mother. It will then release and fire its own hybrid rocket to propel it into space, accelerating to 2,500mph and soaring to 65 miles above the Earth. After hitting the top of its trajectory, the 22-yard-long ship will fall back to Earth, gliding the last part of the way before landing much like a plane.
Sir Richard indicated that by 2020 he hoped there would be as many as five competing spaceship companies and the price of a ticket could be driven down enough for hundreds of thousands of passengers to go into space. Experts say that by traveling into near-Earth orbit, the length of inter-continental flights could be cut dramatically, so a flight from London to Sydney could last just two hours. It is exciting high technology news for this high desert oasis.