Yesterday Virgin Galactic unveiled its SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft along with the mothership/carrier plane WhiteKinghtTwo. Richard Branson the owner of Virgin Galactic and Burt Rutan the owner of Scaled Composites, the company that designed SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed craft to reach space carrying a human, to win the Ansari X Prize, were both present for the unveiling. The press release was held at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.
The WhiteKnight is a two-fuselage, four engine aircraft that will carry SpaceShipTwo, and possible other craft, high into the sky and release them. Once the spacecraft is released it fires up its rocket engine (a combo of nitrous oxide and solid rubber-based fuel) and blasts off into suborbital space, about 62 miles up. The craft them uses its feathered wing to create a great deal of aerodynamic drag and lands like a glider.
Both the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo are more than half completed according to Scaled Composites, and test flights may begin this year, though passenger flights will not begin until at least 2009, though a definite date hasn't been set.
Branson has said that they have received at least 200 firm reservations and over $30 million in deposits. So there is no shortage or funds or willing passengers. Hopefully they will soon have the price down into the range of the average person. But of course only time will tell. Well I will keep you posted on what happens here, it should be rather intertesting. And in a quote from FAA associate administrator Patty Grace Smith, who has been a booster for commercial spaceflight: "This is going to catch hold like a wildfire we have never seen." And boy I hope so.