These are the vehicles that will take you to space
Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflight system consists of two vehicle types: WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. The first of each vehicle type was built by Scaled Composites, and all future vehicles in our spaceline fleet will be built by our sister company, The Spaceship Company.
WhiteKnightTwo is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft. It is designed to carry SpaceShipTwo (or LauncherOne) up to an altitude of ~50,000 feet for safe and efficient air launch, a concept that was established by Chuck Yeager’s supersonic Bell X-1, the X-15, and of course SpaceShipOne.
WhiteKnightTwo’s signature design features are its twin fuselage configuration; single-piece, carbon composite high main wing; and four jet engines. The twin boom configuration allows for a spacious central attachment area between the two fuselages for SpaceShipTwo or LauncherOne.
WhiteKnightTwo’s pilots fly the plane from its right fuselage. In the future, with the right regulatory approvals, research experiments or even customers preparing for their flights to space may sit in the cabin of either fuselage.
The first WhiteKnightTwo, called Eve, has completed an extensive four-and-a-half year flight test program.
SpaceShipTwo is a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to repeatedly carry as many as eight people (including two pilots) into space — a larger total flight crew than any previous space mission except for NASA’s 8-member STS-61-A mission in 1985. Everyone on board SpaceShipTwo will earn official astronaut status, just like the pilots who flew the X-15 spaceplane.
SpaceShipTwo is powered by a hybrid rocket motor — one that combines elements of solid rockets and liquid rocket engines by using a solid fuel source and a liquid oxidizer. Hybrid rocket motors are not a new idea; they have been used in many other applications, including on SpaceShipOne. Although each type of rocket engine has important advantages for different applications (for example, LauncherOne uses liquid rocket engines), hybrids are particularly well suited for SpaceShipTwo because they can be shut down safely and quickly at any point during the flight, unlike solid motors, but do not require the cryogenic propellant tanks or complex plumbing needed by liquid rocket engines.
Like SpaceShipOne before it, SpaceShipTwo uses a unique system to safely re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. With this system, SpaceShipTwo can mimic the performance of a capsule or of a winged vehicle at the appropriate parts of its trajectory. Each of those vehicle types on its own offers important advantages: winged vehicles provide gentle deceleration and precision landing accuracy but require extremely high precision and advanced thermal protection systems, while capsules require less precision and less advanced thermal protection, but subject astronauts to much harsher decelerations and less accurate landings. By changing its configuration in flight, SpaceShipTwo can benefit from the advantages of both types.
SpaceShipTwo’s cabin has been designed to maximize safety and comfort — it is the only spacecraft in history designed explicitly to optimize its passengers’ experience. A dozen windows line the sides and ceiling of the spacecraft, offering each astronaut the ability to view the black skies of space as well as stunning views of the Earth below. Exposure to G-forces during SpaceShipTwo’s ascent and descent is safely and comfortably managed thanks to systems such as our custom-designed, articulated seats, which are upright during rocket boost and reclined during reentry. The cabin is also designed for unfettered enjoyment of a large floating environment.
With the exception of the rocket motor’s fuel and oxidizer, which must be replenished after each flight, SpaceShipTwo is a fully reusable spacecraft.
The first SpaceShipTwo, called Enterprise, was tragically lost during its 55th test flight. The second SpaceShipTwo, not yet named, is approximately two-thirds assembled and 90% structurally complete. It is expected to commence testing in 2015.