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Virgin Galactic to unveil commercial spaceship


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LOS ANGELES (AP) - After five years of secret construction, the cloak is coming off a privately funded spacecraft designed to fly well-heeled tourists into space.

 

The long-awaited glimpse of SpaceShipTwo, slated for rollout Monday in the Mojave Desert, could not come sooner for the scores of wannabe astronauts who have forked over part of their disposable income for the chance to float in zero gravity.

 

"We've all been patiently waiting to see exactly what the vehicle is going to look like," said Peter Cheney, a 63-year-old potential space tourist from Seattle who was among the first to sign up for suborbital space rides marketed by Virgin Galactic. "It would be nice to see it in the flesh."

 

Virgin Galactic spokeswoman Jackie McQuillan promised a "theatrical unveil" followed by a ****tail party for paying passengers and other VIPs.

 

SpaceShipTwo's debut marks the first public appearance of a commercial passenger spacecraft. The project is bankrolled by Virgin Galactic founder, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who partnered with famed aviation designer Burt Rutan, the brains behind the venture.

 

SpaceShipTwo is based on Rutan's design of a stubby white prototype called SpaceShipOne. In 2004, SpaceShipOne captured the $10 million Ansari X Prize by becoming the first privately manned craft to reach space.

 

Since the historic feat, engineers from Rutan's Scaled Composites LLC have been laboring in a Mojave hangar to commercialize the prototype in heavy secrecy.

 

The last time there was this level of hoopla in the high desert was a little more than a year ago when Branson and Rutan trotted out to great fanfare the twin-fuselage mothership, White Knight Two, that will ferry SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude.

 

Despite the hype, hard work lies ahead before space journeys could become as routine as air travel.

 

Flight testing of White Knight Two has been ongoing for the past year. The first SpaceShipTwo test flights are expected to start next year, with full-fledged space launches to its maximum altitude by or in 2011.

 

It remains unclear when Virgin Galactic customers will receive their astronaut wings, but it will largely depend on how the test program fares. Some 300 clients have paid the $200,000 ticket or placed a deposit, according to the company.

 

SpaceShipTwo, built from lightweight composite materials and powered by a hybrid rocket motor, is similar to its prototype cousin with three exceptions. It's twice as large, measuring 60 feet long with a roomy cabin about the size of a Falcon 900 executive jet. It also has more windows including overhead portholes. While SpaceShipOne was designed for three people, SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots.

 

"It's a big and beautiful vehicle," said X Prize founder Peter Diamandis, who has seen SpaceShipTwo during various stages of development.

 

The ability to view Earth's curvature from space has been limited so far to government astronauts and a handful of wealthy people who have shelled out millions to board Russian rockets to the orbiting international space station.

 

After SpaceShipOne's history-making flights, many space advocates believed private companies would offer suborbital space joyrides before the end of this decade.

 

George Washington University space policy scholar John Logsdon called the milestones to date "measured progress."

 

"They've been appropriately cautious and making sure that every step is done correctly," he said.

 

Tragedy struck in 2007 when an explosion killed three of Rutan's engineers during a routine test of SpaceShipTwo's propellant system. The accident delayed the engine's development.

 

Virgin Galactic plans to operate commercial spaceflights out of a taxpayer-funded spaceport in New Mexico that is under construction. The 2 1/2 hour trips - up and down flights without circling the Earth - include about five minutes of weightlessness.

 

SpaceShipTwo will be carried aloft by White Knight Two and released at 50,000 feet. The craft's rocket engine then burns a combination of nitrous oxide and a rubber-based solid fuel to climb more than 65 miles above the Earth's surface.

 

After reaching the top of its trajectory, it will fall back into the atmosphere and glide to a landing like a normal airplane. Its descent is controlled by "feathering" its wings to maximize aerodynamic drag.

 

Virgin Galactic expects to spend more than $400 million for a fleet of five commercial spaceships and launch vehicles.

 

It's not the only player in the ultra-secretive commercial space race. A handful of entrepreneurs including Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, computer game programmer John Carmack and rocketeer Jeff Greason are building their own suborbital rockets with dreams of flying people out of the atmosphere.

 

Link: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20091207/D9CED36O0.html

 

 

Very cool stuff. I'd go if I had that kind of money. But the truth is, as this becomes more commonplace the prices will drop. Just think, in a few years they will begin offering orbital flights. Lunar flights my be just a decade or two away. Perhaps even industrialization on the moon which has an abundance of fissable material called tritium. The future is bright.

"While it is true you learn with age, the down side is what you often learn is what a damn fool you were before"

Thomas Sowell

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That's wonderful news!

"Some men see things as they are and say why?"
"I dream things that never were and say why not?"
- George Bernard Shaw

"Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

 

"The amount of energy necessary to refute bull**** is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it."

- Some guy 

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People pay a lot of money for exclusive experiences. I have to say that cynical as I am about luxuries, there would be something terrifyingly awesome about being in space, however briefly. To chase back down through your genome and reach out a hand from up there to your ape grand^200 parents. Even if their leathery palm smelled faintly of ape poo.

"It wasn't lies. It was just... bull****"."

             -Elwood Blues

 

tarna's dead; processing... complete. Disappointed by Universe. RIP Hades/Sand/etc. Here's hoping your next alt has a harp.

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I suspect that the actual experience itself would hardly be worth the money and bother; its just the knowledge that one is out in space, the contextual thrill of transcendence, as it were.

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I suspect that the actual experience itself would hardly be worth the money and bother; its just the knowledge that one is out in space, the contextual thrill of transcendence, as it were.

Agree. I really have no interest in it at all. Even if I had the money I would rather spend it on something I can actually touch and feel and love, like a Real Doll.

There was a time when I questioned the ability for the schizoid to ever experience genuine happiness, at the very least for a prolonged segment of time. I am no closer to finding the answer, however, it has become apparent that contentment is certainly a realizable goal. I find these results to be adequate, if not pleasing. Unfortunately, connection is another subject entirely. When one has sufficiently examined the mind and their emotional constructs, connection can be easily imitated. More data must be gleaned and further collated before a sufficient judgment can be reached.

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From what I've heard astronauts say, on tv of course :blush:, seeing pictures and video of Earth from space is a far cry from actually being up there. Way too expensive now unless you are Bill Gates, but some day...

 

Wait.. so you're saying that looking at your holiday pictures is different than going on holiday? :o (sorry, couldn't resist, it was a little too captain-obvious)

Fortune favors the bald.

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Wait.. so you're saying that looking at your holiday pictures is different than going on holiday? :blush: (sorry, couldn't resist, it was a little too captain-obvious)

16.gif

 

Who the hell would nerve gas a mouse?

"It wasn't lies. It was just... bull****"."

             -Elwood Blues

 

tarna's dead; processing... complete. Disappointed by Universe. RIP Hades/Sand/etc. Here's hoping your next alt has a harp.

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You have to admit, it will be very funny if a private enterprise manages to return humans to the moon before any national space program does. Especially is they make a huge....PROFIT from it.

"While it is true you learn with age, the down side is what you often learn is what a damn fool you were before"

Thomas Sowell

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You have to admit, it will be very funny if a private enterprise manages to return humans to the moon before any national space program does. Especially is they make a huge....PROFIT from it.

 

Really? Since there isn't much up there for governments to do, except perhaps find a good spot for the future lunar base, and a lot of people are willing to pay premium money just to fly by it, I think it makes perfect sense.

Fortune favors the bald.

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A moon base resort and future star port to head deeper in our solar system may have a lot of potential. Just imagine the mining potential in the asteroid belt alone!

"Your Job is not to die for your country, but set a man on fire, and take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe."

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