We’ve seen the mothership from which the world’s first manned commercial spaceship will be air launched and we’ve even seen design images of the craft itself. Now Virgin Galactic has unveiled the actual spaceship that will take private astronauts into space - SpaceshipTwo (SS2). The unveiling at Mojave Air and Spaceport today marks the first time the craft has been revealed to the public since construction began in 2007 and brings Virgin Galactic another step closer to realizing its goal of becoming the world’s first commercial space line providing private sector access to space.
Subject to certain U.S. regulatory requirements that will guide the unveiling, SS2 will be attached to her WK2 mothership, EVE, which was unveiled last year. In the future, WK2 will carry SS2 to above 50,000 feet (16km) before the spaceship is dropped and fires her rocket motor to launch into space from that altitude. Following the long tradition of using the word Enterprise in the naming of Royal Navy, US Navy, NASA vehicles and even science fiction spacecraft, Governor Schwarzenegger of California and Governor Richardson of New Mexico christened SS2 with the name Virgin Space Ship (VSS) ENTERPRISE.
The SS2 draws on the experience developed during the successful flights of SS1 in 2004, which won the Ansari X-Prize for completing the world’s first manned private space flights. The WK2 mothership has now also completed a year of rigorous and successful first phase flight-testing prior to today’s attachment of SS2. Virgin Galactic says the SS2’s design will be refined and completed during an extensive test flying program to commence shortly, and it will be an entirely new vehicle by the time it is capable of carrying up to six passenger astronauts and up to two pilot astronauts into space on a sub-orbital flight. By then SS2 will be powered by a unique hybrid rocket motor, which is currently under development.
“This is truly a momentous day", said Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic. "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”.
It is hoped that 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. Recent research has indicated that 12,500 jobs have already been created by the new space companies; 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.