Yes I know the whole point of this design is that there is very little metal in it but we couldn’t resist a short update on Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Space Craft. While the mother ship White Knight has been under tests for a year now the combined mother ship and space craft have just been presented to the press at a ceremony in the Mojave Desert according to this release.
The ship’s unique design is a two part craft – the spaceship itself is attached to a bigger mother ship, called the White Knight but nicknamed Eve after Branson’s mother (well if you are a billionaire I guess you can indulge in such things), which carries the smaller craft up to an altitude of 50,000 feet, before the rockets kick in and the spaceship jets up to 340,000 feet, around 65 miles, at a speed of 2500 miles per hour. Eve is powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A engines and the centrally slung spaceship SS2 is powered by rockets, at 50,000 ft+ the air is getting too thin for turbines. After a flight above the suborbital atmosphere, the craft’s wings fold up 90 degrees and it becomes a glider, gently coasting back down to earth.
The Virgin Galactic program is hoped to be ready for launch late 2011, and will take off from a special Space Port being built in New Mexico by acclaimed architect Norman Foster’s firm. Virgin has been clever in adopting a low cost airline approach where the airports pay the airline to bring in flights and generate traffic. Virgin has talked New Mexico into building the Space Port for them in return for the kudos of hosting the US base. A European space port has not been decided on yet.
Made of carbon composite, a lighter material than metal, the ship is more fuel efficient than current space vehicles, with a carbon footprint reputed to be equivalent to one business class ticket from London to New York, compared to the current Space Shuttle carbon count which is equal to the energy output of New York City for five days! Whatever the fuel efficiency you have to admit Branson has style. There are already several hundred paid up “astronauts for which read passengers, who have put down some $200k each for the one and a half hour flight.