Virgin Galactic reveals VSS Enterprise

by Chris Bergin

More details about Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipTwo – VSS Enterprise – have been revealed to the public on Thursday, during a press briefing in New York City.

The new ship is 60 feet in length – twice that of its predecessor SpaceShipOne – carrying six paying space tourists to 360,000 feet above the Earth.

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Virgin Galactic recently signed a 20-year lease for a space port to be built by New Mexico, but will initially launch customers from California. Tickets will cost around $200,000 each. 

The concept on show in New York, revealing the interior of the new ship, is likely to change slightly when construction finally begins. Both the constructed SS2 and its carry craft, White Knight 2, will be on show at the end of next year.
A graphical presentation shows SS2 will have two pilots, with six reclining seats for passenger to reduce the affects of the expected 3g during the trip. One in zero g, it appears they will be allowed to leave their seats and float around for a few minutes.

SS2 will be three times larger than SS1 (with an interior approximately the size of a Gulf Stream IV Corporate Jet) and when developed, the carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) will be larger than a Boeing 757. Virgin Galactic’s SS2 and WK2 are currently under construction at Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites at the Mojave Spaceport in California.

It is expected that SS2 and WK2 will be rolled out of the factory in the latter half of 2007, to begin test flights by early 2008, with commercial operations expected to commence in 2009.

Launched in September 2004 by Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic will invest up to $250 million to develop the world’s first commercial space tourism business with the building, testing and flying of five SpaceShipTwos and two WhiteKnightTwos.

It is expected that within the first year of commercial operations Virgin Galactic will enable 500 people to fulfil their dream of becoming Astronauts; in the last 4 decades the world has seen fewer than 500 Astronauts. 

‘This is an exciting day. Construction of SS2 is underway at Burt Rutan’s factory in Mojave California and this is the first opportunity for the public to get a sneak preview of the sheer scale of what is under construction there,’ said Sir Richard Branson. 

‘Our vision is to successfully build the world’s first environmentally benign space launch system and prove once and for all the commercial viability of a safe space launch system that we believe will eventually be capable of taking pay load and science into space as well as people.

‘Some of our pioneering astronauts are in New York today including the first ever frequent flyer from Virgin Atlantic to use his miles to go to space!’

Designed by Seymour Powell, leading British product designers, the conceptual interior features six passenger seats with two pilot astronauts’ seats forward of the bulkhead.

Seating in SS2 will uniquely allow the passengers a comfortable ride into space and back utilising cutting edge design to minimise the impact of G force on the body. This design, and others in development, allows our Astronauts to leave their seats and enjoy their period of weightlessness in space.

The design also allows our Astronauts to witness the magnificence of the Blue planet while floating free. Vision will be further enhanced by large windows (approximately 15) strategically placed all around the cabin and even in the floor.

Through instrumentation in the cabin, and by the use of handheld pods featuring wireless communications, the Astronauts will have the ability to carry out scientific experiments during their flight.

Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic added: ‘Although not visible in today’s mock-up there has been considerable technological development in the design of SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo.

‘One of the exciting features of the new system will be the ability to transport it globally from its home base in New Mexico to any location in the world where we get permission to operate. Discussions are already underway in several countries including the UK, Sweden and Australia.’

It is envisaged by both Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites that the scaling up of SS1 will provide flexibility for future development of science in space. Virgin Galactic is committed to developing an environmentally benign operation.

Its planned operational headquarters at Spaceport America in New Mexico are being designed with the aim of generating power exclusively from sources of renewable energy.

Both SS2 and WK2 will be built of an ultra light, ultra strong composite material, which will minimize the use of energy in the deployment of the vehicle to space.

This is complimented by use of the latest technology in hybrid rocket motors and next generation turbo-fan engines for SS2 and WK2 which will radically reduce the environmental impact associated with space travel to date.

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