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Woo hoo - Spaceship Two!

Details on Burt Rutan's follow-up to SpaceShip One have started to appear...

According to the folks at RocketForge (who attended the 2005 International Space Development Conference), SpaceShip Two will be designed to hit an altitude of more than 360,000 feet, with the aim of giving passengers about 5 minutes of weightlessness.

SpaceShip Two's White Knight (named "Eve" after Richard Branson's mother) will also carry passengers in a similar cabin to SpaceShip Two's, so that one set of passengers can watch another head for space- and the aircraft may also be used for parabolic zero-G training flights.

Not too long to wait, too: Spring 2008 for the first Virgin Galactic flights on the "Virgin Spaceship Enterprise".

In other space news, an official announcement of the upcoming X-Prize Orbital isn't far away...

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
daveon
May. 24th, 2005 02:34 pm (UTC)
I'm still skeptical... not about SS2 - I'm sure it'll do what it says on the Tin, just about this as a business in general and how it is going to usher in a new era of space development. Although velocity in this regard is far far more interesting than height. Early rocket experiments in the late 40s routintely got out several hundred kilometres.

*sigh*

Maybe I have just become far too cynical about this, but reading the X-Prize Orbital hype almost had me laughing out loud. I'm prepared to bet we won't see an orbital vehicle in the next 10 years from a private non-government source.

lostcarpark
May. 25th, 2005 03:01 am (UTC)
In the 1950s, the US made some very impressive steps with rocket planes, with planes like the X15 making sub-orbital hops. The programme was more or less shut down after sputnik, and all efforts were concentrated on missiles (the fact that the technology could also be used for ICBMs may also have been a factor here). My personal view is that if they'd stuck with planes, they'd have flown into space.

They tried to jump back to spaceplanes in the 1970s, but designing the shuttle by committee, with too many compromises to satisfy too many disparate requirements, ended up with something that wasn't really a missile and wasn't really a plane.

Space tourism is in its infancy, and it's difficult to see how SS2 will lead to a booming business. It was probably difficult to see how barnstorming in the 1920s could supplant almost all other modes of long-distance travel. I think there will be enough demand for rides on SS2 and similar vehicles for them to meet their goals, though the people who travel in it could be considered "thrillseekers" rather than passengers (the latter term implies you are actually going somewhere).

I recognise that there's a big difference between suborbital hops and full orbital flight, but I do think the X prize is taking us in the right direction. I'm not suggesting that you can take a suborbital vehicle and develop an orbital one out of it, but important experience will be gained, and even more importantly, the business case will be proven.

I totally agree that the X-Prize Orbital seems waaaaay over-optimistic. However, I do think that an orbital craft could be ready in about ten years given the right incentive and backing. However, getting from orbital flight to the moon is a completly different story, and there's no way I can see that happening within three years of the first orbital flight.
cobrabay
May. 25th, 2005 06:04 am (UTC)
Not quite, there was hardly a time from the late-40s onwards when rocketplanes weren't being considered, built or flown. The X-15 programme did start before Sputnik I launched, it was proposed in 1954, but the first flight wasn't until 1959, 2 years after Sputnik, and a year after the US had successfully flown Explorer and Vanguard satellites. The final flight of the X-15 was in 1968. There was also the rocket powered lifting body programmes, the Martin Marietta's X-24/X-24A/X-24B, and Northrop's HL-10, M2-F1/M2-F2/M2-F3. These ran from the mid-1960's to the mid-1970's, overlapping the shuttle programme which started in 1972 (though it didn't launch until 1981). In addition, though it never flew, the X-20 Dynasoar programme ran from 1957 to 1963 when it was cancelled before the first prototype was completed.
Where NASA went wrong was in not building Maxime Fagets "DC-3" concept, a simpler, 4-man, 20,000lb payload spaceplane which could have been flying in the mid-70s, and probably on to a 2nd or 3rd generation vehicle by now.
I agree with you on the sub-orbital/orbital development and business cases. We've had the technology for 40 years, but it will take a bit longer for the busniess model to catch up.
lostcarpark
May. 25th, 2005 07:39 am (UTC)
Okay, I take your point that work on rocket planes never actually stopped. However, post-Sputnik there was a shift in attitude from "let's see how we can get to spece" to "this is how we've got to do it." It's somewhat understandable, as there was a real fear that the Russians would be dropping nukes on their heads. And with the vast majority of funding going into missile-based spaceflight, spaceplanes didn't stand a chance.

Even the shuttle shows a missile-based approach in many areas. Planes don't go straight up with two solid fueled rockets strapped to them. Once you light them, you're committed as there's nothing you can do to shut them down.

If spaceplanes had anything like the funding the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo programmes had, Alan Shepherd might have flown into orbit, and we might have weekly flights to the ISS in several different kinds of spaceplane today.
daveon
May. 25th, 2005 10:00 am (UTC)
There are many problems and the US might have managed to build an evolutionary rocket plane that could make orbit and get back carrying 2 people. I'm not convinced that they could have done anything else.

Development of space will require a lot more than that and that is where the current "boot strapping" business plans all seem to fall apart to me.

If anything SS2 is on a curve all of its own.

He did say "private" moon landing. I costed this a while ago and it's not all that hard - as long as you're only planning to put a payload on the moon. You could, in theory, do a sample return using an Arianne 5, Heavy Delta or Proton. I'm just not sure what the point would be.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )