Friday, March 13, 2009

Shaping up the next stage in spaceflight

I don't know a whole lot about Richard Branson other than he likes virgins -- a lot -- but I do like what he's doing to advance humanity's march into space.

And he's using his own money to do it.

Here's what's being worked on now:

The skies over California's Mojave Air and Space Port are serving as the proving ground for the WhiteKnightTwo, the massive mothership being tested to air-launch commercial spaceliners on suborbital flights

A third test flight of the huge carrier craft - which looks like a giant catamaran for the sky - is deemed as "imminent", said Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic - the company put into business by U.K. adventurer and billionaire Richard Branson and his Virgin Group, created [sic]

Virgin Galactic's aim is to propel public space travel into reality.


WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) will haul the suborbital SpaceShipTwo spaceliner to a high-altitude release point. That spaceship, the first of which is nearing completion, has moved from drawings to hardware thanks to the Scaled Composites work force under the watchful eye of the firm's founder, Burt Rutan - now Chief Technology Officer and Chairman Emeritus of the company.

Roaring to life via a hybrid rocket motor, SpaceShipTwo will carry two pilots and six passengers on a suborbital trajectory, scooting the rubber-necking "rush hour" commuters to the edge of space and returning them to terra firma at $200,000 a seat.

Commercial enterprises did a lot to expand the reach of air travel. Let's see if the same can be done for space.

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