SpaceShipTwo

Test Flight

Click image for Video

SpaceShipTwo, also known as VSS Enterprise, is a hybrid rocket plane capable of launching into space reaching a maximum height of 110-kilometre in a parabolic arc well above the Kármán Line, which is where weightlessness is usually experienced. The duration of this micro gravity is just four minutes on average. The launch vehicle mothership is WhiteKnightTwo, which carries it to an altitude of 51,500 feet above ground level (AGL). From there, SpaceShipTwo launches into space by switching ON its single engine hybrid rocket motor, which accelerates it to a maximum speed of Mach 4. The rocket boost is for around 60 seconds after which it follows a typical ballistic arc returning back down and landing as a conventional aeroplane. The spacecraft has a capacity to carry eight people, consisting of two pilots and six passengers. Scaled Composites, a company founded by the $10 million Ansari Prizewinner Burt Rutan, developed the spacecraft and the mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, for Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline fully owned and privately funded by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS. This is the first rocket-powered airplane for the space tourism industry to receive a certification permit from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The total estimated cost of SpaceShipTwo project is around US$400 million, which includes the development cost of Spaceport America in the Mojave Desert. Besides being the cleanest form of space travel currently available, it is also the cheapest. The ticket price estimation was at around US$200,000 in 2012, and expected to increase to US$250,000.

Its simplicity, as well as a lower component count, also makes it the most reliable. This is quite possibly one of the biggest breakthroughs in space travel, which will set the standard for the next generation of spacecraft. It is one small step for Sir Branson but one giant leap for humankind.

Specification

Engines Single Rocket Motor
Fuel Liquid / Solid
Max Speed Mach 4
Materials Carbon fibre composite
Thrust TBD
Weight 9740 kg (with fuel)

Accident October 31, 2014

Space travel is risky business and even the best of the best such as NASA have had to deal with setbacks. However, the main thing is to learn from mistakes and make the necessary improvements so that these accidents do not occur again. The very early commercial jet planes used to crash, however, the industry kept improving them to the point that today they are the safest mode of travel. If they had given up at the first crash, then today we would have no planes.

Test flights by test pilots are usually the most risky, because their job is to test the plane beyond its limits, and this is the only time when they can do this. Due to the risks involved, test pilots usually receive huge sums of money for risking their lives in this way, because this is the only way to test any plane. Usually, there is no such thing as pilot error in test flight crashes, because pilots are doing exactly what their job entails.

Explosion

The engine and fuel tanks were recovered intact which rules out a rocket failure or an explosion of the fuel tanks. The cockpit video reveals that the plane assumed the feathering configuration, whilst the main rocket engines were ON. This would cause it to break apart, because the feathering configuration is the primary breaking system, which produces maximum drag.

Perhaps a better interlocking mechanism may be required to prevent the plane from entering this configuration whilst the engines are active. However, this will be a complex matter of diagnosing exactly which component failed and improving it so that it does not fail again.

If you have bought tickets for a ride on this plane, then I would not be too hasty asking for a refund. It is better to wait and see what the FAA have discovered. It could be something extremely simple that failed and easily fixable.

Unique Re-entry

Unique Re-entry

Click image for Video of SpaceShipTwo Re-entry

This craft uses a unique way of slowing down the fall when returning to Earth. The re-entry involves the "feathered" configuration where the tail sections of the vehicle rotate upwards to a 65° angle with the fuselage, whilst the nose points upwards. The descent is almost vertical, and it remains in this configuration for 1 minute and 15 seconds whilst descending at a speed of 15,500 feet per minute. This re-entry causes a shuttlecock type drag created by the raised tail section. It allows for a lower skin temperature and smoother g-loads. The heat shield of the rocket motor also helps to protect the craft from the extreme heat associated by re-entry. At 33,500 feet, the pilots reconfigure the spaceship to its normal glide mode and execute a smooth runway landing sequence.

Rocket Engine

SpaceShipTwo Rocket Engine

Click image for Hybrid Rocket Motor Test Video

Pilots

Pilot   Flying
Pete Siebold Scaled Pilot SpaceShipTwo
Mike Alsbury Scaled Pilot SpaceShipTwo
Mark Stucky Scaled Pilot WhiteKnightTwo
David Mackay Scaled Pilot WhiteKnightTwo
Mike Melvill Flying the Chase plane
Keith Colmer Virgin Galactic Pilot  

Hybrid Rocket Motor

The hybrid rocket motor is one of the safest ever developed. A hybrid motor uses a combination of solid and liquid fuel for its propellant. This type of rocket motor has been well tried and tested, and used for over 76 years.

The solid fuel typically tends to be rubber, whilst the liquid part is Nitrous Oxide, which acts as an Oxidising catalyst. Since one fuel is a solid and the other a liquid there is no chance of a runaway uncontrolled reaction occurring.

Nitrous Oxide, also known as laughing gas, is an inert compound at room temperature and therefore completely safe. If any of it leaked there would not be an explosion, however you could die from laughing :-). However, the chances of a leakage are zero.

The Oxidiser usually pumps at a precise rate, and the extremely short 60-second burn is pre-set within the control system. It is simplicity and reliability working together and the use of nitrous oxide is pure genius. These rocket engines are safer because they have very few moving components. The chemical reaction produces all the thrust, and therefore there is very little that could go wrong. This engine has undergone extensive testing and has performed well in every engine test. You have a greater chance of winning both the National Lottery and NS & I Premium Bonds on the same month than experiencing engine failure.

In contrast, the Space Shuttle engines were extremely complicated which resulted in high operating costs, and higher flight risks. For the engine specs including a video of the engine test, please refer to the SpaceShipTwo Rocket page.

History

SpaceShipOne was the tier one programme funded by the Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The Spaceship Company (TSC) is licensing this technology from Scaled Composite for the build of SpaceShipTwo.

TSC is an aerospace production company that is building the world’s first fleet of commercial space planes. This is a joint venture by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composite. TSC’s main customer is Virgin Galactic, which has the goal of becoming the world’s first commercial spaceline.

Sir Richard Branson and Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny CEO of AABAR Investments PJS jointly own Virgin Galactic. AABAR is an Abu Dhabi based organisation. IPIC acquired a stake in AABAR in 2008 and currently owns 95%. They have made numerous investments in the following organisations.

  • Daimler AG
  • Falcon Private Bank Ltd
  • Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Limited
  • UniCredit
  • Galactic Ventures LLC
  • XOJET
  • Glencore International PLC
  • Real Estate Projects

First Commercial Flight Timings

  Approximate Timings
Climb with WhiteKnightTwo 60 minutes to 90 minutes
Rocket Boost 60 seconds
Coast 240 seconds
Re-entry 80 seconds
De-feather 30 seconds
Glide to Land 15 minutes

Models

For the honest people such as me who will not have the money for a ticket, there is always the scale model kit that is just affordable. It is possible to buy a model kit from online stores and they are great fun to make and play with.

There are also a number of card models available on line. Here is an inspirational YouTube video showing How to make an F15 Jet Fighter Paper Plane.

Video

SpaceShipTwo Video
SpaceShipTwo Landing Video
SpaceShipTwo Re-entry Video
WhiteKnightTwo Takeoff Video

The Management

George Whitesides President and CEO of Virgin Galactic
Stephen Attenborough Virgin Galactic’s Commercial Director
Enrico Palermo Vice President, Operations
Joe Brennan Director of Production Operations
Scott Ostrem Chief Engineer
Bob Marks Director, Supply Chain
Sir Richard Branson Owner / Business Tycoon
Burt Rutan Designer Developer
Paul Allen Partner and Investor
Michael P. Moses Vice President of Operations
Steven J. Isakowitz Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
Kenneth H. Sunshine Chief Financial Officer
Kevin Mickey President of Scaled

This Article Continues...

SpaceShipTwo
SpaceShipTwo Interior
SpaceShipTwo Rocket Engine
Mojave Spaceport
SpaceShipTwo Specifications
WhiteKnightTwo
SpaceShipTwo Video