Ready for a sub-orbital space tourism? With $200,000 you may have a chance soon as Virgin Galactic tests suborbital spaceship on 10/10/10. The manned flight test occurred Sunday over the Mojave Desert as the Virgin Enterprise was released from 45,000 feet by the White Knight Two mother-plane, a.k.a. ‘Eve’. Pilot Pete Seibold and Co-Pilot Mike Alsbury were at the controls of SpaceshipTwo flying a perfect mission once released by it’s mother ship. Built by Scaled Composites, the space plane is the latest venture by Sir Richard Branson to that his Virgin Galactic began the project in 2004.
Branson was present for the historic flight and said “This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin. For the first time since we seriously began the project in 2004, I watched the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on a runway at Mojave Air and Space Port and it was a great moment. Now, the sky is no longer the limit and we will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year.”
The two pilots were happy, too. Pete Seibold said “The VSS Enterprise was a real joy to fly, especially when one considers the fact that the vehicle has been designed not only to be a Mach 3.5 spaceship capable of going into space but also one of the world’s highest altitude gliders.”
People are lining up fro a ride. Already, some 370 people have made deposits of amounting to $50 million dollars. Regular flights will fly out of Spaceport America in New Mexico. A new facility will be open on Friday, October 22 upon completion of the runway.
The VSS Enterprise will be carried by Eve follows in the footsteps of it’s creator’s, Burt Rutan, first design, Spaceship One. Rutan’s concept won him the $10 million dollar Ansari X-Prize for the first reusable vehicle that could make two manned sub-orbital flights within a 2-week period. His innovative approach of performing an ‘air launch’ from an altitude of 50,000 feet. Once released from it’s mothership, the spacecraft falls freely, then fires it’s own rocket motor. This allows the spacecraft to need much less propellant to achieve space flight.
Unlike other manned spacecraft, Burt Rutan avoids the need for a special heat shield by employing a unique re-entry method of ‘feathering’. The very aerodynamic design of the vehicle eliminates the need for a sophisticated computer control system (NASA’s Space Shuttle uses 5 on-board computers to glide) and even the pilots need do very little, flying ‘hands-free‘.
Rutan was inspired by the simplicity of a shuttlecock, used in the game of badminton, where the entire tail/wing assembly rotates 65 degrees. This creates a high-drag configuration, slowing the spacecraft down quickly as it returns from space. Once the vehicle reaches an altitude of about 70,000 feet, the tail/wing assembly returns to normal and the pilots take over and glide the space-plane down.
Burt Rutan also keeps the rocket motor simple, using a hybrid solid fuel rocket with a small tank of liquid Nitrous Oxide to blast the spacecraft into space. Neither the oxidizer nor the solid fuel motor contain any toxins for maintaining a high level of safety. The Space Ship Two is 60 feet in length, compared to only 25 feet for it’s predecessor. While Space Ship One could only carry a crew of two, the VSS Enterprise will carry six passengers and two crew with plenty of windows for viewing.
For the eager space tourist, the starting price for a journey is $200,000 with a refundable deposit of $20,000. Passenger will have to undergo some pre-flight medical checks to ensure that you are healthy enough to withstand the few minutes of high-Gs while Space Ship Two’s rocket motor is firing. In a test, some 80 volunteers from the ages of 22 to 80 went through the process which included 6-8 G ride inside a centrifuge and 93% passed with flying colors. In practice, once ready, the program calls for a 3-day pre-flight preparation and training. This includes a pre-space flight inside the Eve mothership for some zero-G parabolas, such as NASA does with it’s infamous ‘Vomit Comet’ plane.
The VSS Enterprise will carry it’s passengers and crew to an altitude of 110 kilometers, roughly 70 miles. Traveling at a speed of Mach 3.5, about 2,500 MPH, the spacecraft will reach it’s peak in just a few short minutes. Passengers will then experience Zero Gravity for about 8 minutes before the vehicle begins it’s return to Earth. The glide back down takes about 25 minutes. Along with the initial take off while being carried by the White Knight Two mothership, Eve, the entire adventure lasts almost 2.5 hours.
Virgin Galactic tests Space Ship Two making it’s first solo glide flight test Sunday, September 10, 2010, the next step will be to make it’s first test flight into space. This is expected after additional test glides using it’s WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, sometime next year. The FAA must certify the VSS Enterprise, which is expected soon. Already, 370 space tourists have made deposits, with another 80,000 inquiries. The first solo glide of the SpaceShipTwo only carried the two crew, pilot Pete Seibold and copilot Mike Alsbury. The owner of Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson, was on hand for the test flight, as well as designer Burt Rutan and his partner Paul Allen.