SpaceShipTwo (VSS Enterprise) is the next generation of privately
funded spacecraft built upon the success of SpaceShipOne,
which was the first private spacecraft to enter suborbital
space in June 2004. SpaceShipTwo however, will be approximately
three times as large as SpaceShipOne and will hold two pilots
and six passengers.
SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is being built as a joint venture between
designer Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites, Inc. and Sir Richard
Branson's Virgin Galactic. The name being given the first
SpaceShipTwo is VSS (Virgin Space Ship) Enterprise, which
combines the obvious Virgin Airlines ties with the starship
Enterprise from the Star Trek TV series.
Just as the SpaceShipOne was launched by the White Knight
aircraft, SpaceShipTwo will be carried to 60,000 feet and
launched by White Knight Two. White Knight Two has also been
given the name VMS Eve (Virgin Mothership Eve) and is three
times as large as its predecessor, White Knight.
One of the defining features of SpaceShipTwo will be the
passenger experience. The first passengers are expected to
pay around $200,000 per ticket for a 2.5 hour flight, so Rutan
and Branson wish to give paying customers their money's worth.
The interior of SpaceShipTwo will have lots of windows and
reclining, form fitting-seats. The passengers will be allowed
out of their seats, however, for a couple of minutes to experience
weightlessness during the spaceflight. There has been talk
of using tethers to retract people back into their seats when
the time for weightlessness has expired, although this may
not be necessary.
The spacesuits are expected to be equipped with cameras in
addition to the in-cabin cameras. Presumably, passengers will
also receive a video DVD of their adventure to take home after
the flight as well.
Even though the initial test flights are not due until late
2007 and the first actual commercial spaceflights until 2011,
the first 200 reservations have been made by what Virgin is
called the "Founders" group. This group has already
made a $20,000 deposit on the flight.
The one exception is 51-year-old Alan Watts, who was able
to trade in two million frequent flyer miles from Virgin Atlantic
for this adventure. Apparently, he was not subject to blackout
dates either. The idea behind using frequent flyer miles was
to make the spaceflight more democratic and less elitist,
allowing some people without the cash to participate. The
idea of using lotteries is also being discussed, so that more
Average Joe's and Average Jane's can participate.
The next two groups of passengers are being called "Pioneers"
and "Voyagers". The Pioneers will be the next 400
paying passengers, with the next lot of Voyagers to follow.
Both of these groups will pay significantly less that the
initial Founders group.
There has also been talk of a reality TV show that will take
place aboard the SpaceShipTwo and other high profile means
of marketing commercial spaceflights. The test flights are
to take place at the airport in Mojave, California, while
the commercial flights are expected to take off and land at
New Mexico's Spaceport America airfield.
If all goes well with SpaceShipTwo, then SpaceShipThree
will be developed to be one of the first (if not the first)
commercial orbital spacecraft, possibly even capable of docking
with the International Space Station.
On July 26, 2007 Scaled Composites suffered a major setback
as three of its technicians died at the Mojave Desert Compound
while doing a routine cold-flow test for SpaceShipTwo. Three
others were injured in the same explosion.
On December 10, 2009 the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo was
officially unveiled in the Mojave California Desert. Richard
Branson's daughter Holly gave the spacecraft its official
name, VSS Enterprise. And VSS Enterprise has quite a good
ring to it, now doesn't it?