Vehicles: SpaceShipTwo & WhiteKnightTwo
Capability: sub-orbital, reusable
First flight: TBC
In 2004, Scaled Composites flew SpaceShipOne to the edge of space twice within a fortnight, winning the Ansari X-Prize for the world’s first privately-funded reusable spacecraft.
Sadly, SpaceShipOne has never flown again, but in 2005, Virgin Galactic created The Spaceship Company with Scaled Composites to build SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo. The initial fleet will comprise five sets of carrier and spacecraft, to fly from Spaceport America in Mojave, New Mexico, and a new spaceport to be built in the United Arab Emirates.
SpaceShipTwo will be a scaled-up version of the one-man prize winner, capable of taking two crew and up to six passengers on a sub-orbital flight to just over the 100km boundary of space, launched at around 15km up from WhiteKnightTwo. Like it’s predecessor, SS2 will use a hybrid rocket motor burning solid fuel with a liquid oxidiser, reaching a top speed of Mach 3.5 and up to 4g before a period of some 15 minutes in weightless ballistic space flight. WK2 is designed to simulate many of the flight characteristics of SS2, so it can be used as a training aircraft for new pilots.A
A comparison of SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo
During the descent, SS2 will use the same ‘feathered’ wing design as SS1 to slow down in the upper atmosphere before gliding back to land. This rotates the wings to about 65 degrees, which creates a high drag, high stability position while the spacecraft’s body remains horizontal for the comfort of its occupants.
There’s currently a single pair of test craft: VSS (Virgin Space Ship) Enterprise and VMS (Virgin Mother Ship) Eve, the latter named after Virgin Galactic boss Richard Branson’s mother.
SpaceShipTwo tests out the feathered wings
The system has performed several successful captive carry and glide release flights to push the spacecraft’s performance envelope, although the most recent test, in September 2011, saw Enterprise enter an unexpected stall which was recovered using the feathered wings.
Meanwhile, Scaled Composites continues to test fire the rocket engine on the ground, but The Spaceship Company has yet to announce when the engine and spacecraft will be paired up and begin powered test flights. It’s hoped that the first sub-orbital test will be conducted by the end of 2012.
SpaceShipTwo glides home to Spaceport America, New Mexico
Images TheSpaceShip Company, Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic