Thursday, January 24, 2008

Future Space Flight?

Virgin Galactic founder, Sir Richard Branson, unveiled the new spaceflight system, composed of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane and the SpaceShipTwo spacecrafts.

“2008 really will be the year of the spaceship,” said Branson when he unveiled the 1/16th-scale model spacecraft at the American Museum of Natural History. “We’re truly excited about our new system and what our new system will be able to do.”

Both crafts were designed and built by aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan and his firm Scaled Composites. The first spaceflights are star-dated for 2009, tickets aboard the SpaceShipTwo space liners are available from Virgin Galactic for an initial price of about $200,000.

Based on Rutan's SpaceShipOne, a piloted and reusable spacecraft that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for suborbital spaceflight in 2004, SpaceShipTwo is an air-launched vehicle designed to carry six passengers and two pilots to suborbital space and back. But unlike SpaceShipOne, which launched from beneath its single-cabin WhiteKnight carrier, the new craft will drop from a twin-cabin high-altitude jet that can double as a space tourist training craft. WhiteKnightTwo carries four engines and a wingspan of about 140 feet (42 meters), rivaling a B-29 bomber, and is built to handle unmanned rockets capable of launching small satellites into orbit, Virgin Galactic officials said.

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