SpaceShipTwo, intended to carry passengers and scientific payloads into suborbital space, is being unveiled today by Virgin Galactic in Mojave, California. SpaceShipTwo was developed for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic by the engineering firm Scaled Composites, a team that includes aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan.
This reusable spacecraft will take two pilots and six passengers to space after first being carried aloft by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, which has already been undergoing test flights for a year. SpaceShipTwo will conduct flights of passengers and science payloads to space from Spaceport America near Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, stated, “This is truly a momentous day. The team has created not only a world first but also a work of art. The unveil of SS2 takes the Virgin Galactic vision to the next level and continues to provide tangible evidence that this ambitious project is not only moving rapidly, but also making tremendous progress towards our goal of safe commercial operation.”
Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, commented, “Just a few years ago, SpaceShipOne became the first new U.S. human spacecraft to be unveiled since the Space Shuttle over twenty years ago. Today’s rollout of SpaceShipTwo, the first human spacecraft built for routine commercial operations, is an even more exciting milestone for the commercial spaceflight sector.”
Alexander added, “SpaceShipTwo marks the start of a new wave of commercial spacecraft that will provide frequent and low-cost access to space for people and science payloads.”
According to Virgin Galactic, “The emergence of new commercial space companies like Virgin Galactic will be an engine for employment, growth and the creation of a new technology and science base in the United States… the Virgin Galactic project alone is creating significant opportunities for employment in both the company itself and with suppliers in both California and New Mexico. Approximately 600 people are now working on activities relating to the project and it is estimated that this figure will rise to over 1,100 jobs during the peak of the construction phase at the space port and through the introduction of the commercial space vehicles into regular astronaut service.”
The precursor vehicle to SpaceShipTwo, the SpaceShipOne vehicle unveiled in 2003, became the first private human spacecraft to reach space in 2004 and won the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for commercial spaceflight.
Image credit (showing WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo): Virgin Galactic