Spaceshiptwo Header Graphic


Picture of Spaceshiptwo

Picture of SpaceShipTwo: Click image for Video

SpaceShipTwo (SS2) named VSS Enterprise is an air-launched, suborbital space plane capable of routinely reaching a maximum altitude of 110 kilometre apogee. This is a location just outside the Earth's atmosphere above the Kármán Line.

The SS2 is carried by the mothership WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) to a height of 51,500 feet AGL (altitude above ground level). From there the SS2 launches into space by switching on its single engine hybrid-fuel rocket which accelerates it to a peak velocity of Mach 4. The rocket boost is for around 60 seconds after which it follows a typical ballistic arc.

The spacecraft has a capacity to carry a total of eight people, consisting of two pilots and six passengers.

The spacecraft and the mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, were developed for Virgin Galactic by Scaled Composites, a company founded by Burt Rutan. In 2004 he claimed the $10 million Ansari Prize for the world’s first privately developed manned spacecraft.

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 capable of carrying humans on board to receive a certification permit from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The total estimated cost of SpaceShipTwo project is around $400 Million USD. This includes the development cost of Spaceport America. Considering that this is a reusable spacecraft that is environmentally friendly and economical to run, will create jobs and industry, it's a bargain.

Besides being the cleanest form of space travel currently available, it is also the cheapest. Its simplicity in design, 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, and will set the standard for the next generation of space craft. It is one small step for Sir Richard but one giant leap for mankind.

The possibilities for its use are endless. It can be used to send satellites into orbit. It can be used to train future astronauts. It can also be used by NASA to conduct experiments in the micro-gravity environment... The great thing is that the internal cabin has been designed to be flexible, and accommodate any foreseeable applications.

News 2013: "Virgin Galactic, owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS, is on track to be the world’s first commercial spaceline."

Orbiter: A sub-orbital flight is where a spacecraft reaches space, but its trajectory intersects the surface of the Earth, and therefore cannot complete a single orbit around the Earth.

Space tourism: This has been getting very popular in recent years. If you are considering buying a flight there are only two options available; SpaceShipTwo Vs Soyuz.

Unique Reentry

Spaceshiptwo Unique Re-entry

Click image for Video of Spacehiptwo Reentry

This craft uses a unique way of returning to Earth. The re-entry involves the "feathered" configuration where the tail sections of the vehicle are rotated upwards to a 65° angle to the fuselage, whilst the body is maintained at a level pitch. The descent is almost vertical.

It remains in this configuration for 1 minute and 15 seconds whilst descending at a speed of 15,500 feet per minute.

This unique 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. This functionality of the craft has been tested many times through powered flight and drop tests and works every time without any problems.

Rocket Engine

Rocket Engine

Click image for Hybrid Rocket Motor Test Video

Blue Print: The hybrid rocket motor is one of the safest ever developed. It is called a hybrid motor because it 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.

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

The Oxidiser is pumped at a precise rate, and the extremely short 60 second burn tends to be pre-programmed within the control system. It is simplicity and reliability working together and the use of Nitrous Oxide is pure genius. These rocket engines are actually safer because they have very few moving components, the thrust is created purely by the chemical reaction, and therefore there is very little that could go wrong.

Problems: There have been no incidents on this particular engine build. 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 comparison, the RIP - Space Shuttle engines were over-engineered and extremely complicated which resulted in high operating costs, and higher flight risks. SpaceShipTwo is far more safer. For the engine specs including a video of the engine test please refer to the SpaceShipTwo Rocket page.


Propulsion: Single Rocket Motor
Fuel: Liquid / Solid Hybrid
Speed:  Mach 4 Peek
Materials: Carbon fibre composite
Thrust: TBD
Mass of SpaceShipTwo: 9740 kg (with fuel)

How Fast: Exactly how fast SpaceShipTwo travels is difficult to tell but its peak speed reaches the speed of sound when the rockets are ignited.

More information will be added as it becomes available. For the specs currently available please refer to the SpaceShipTwo Specifications page.


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


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
Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny CEO of AABAR Investments PJS
Burt Rutan Scaled: Designer & Developer
Paul Allen Scaled: 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 is a list of just some of the people involved in the project based on the current press releases. The list is not in any particular order. Being a Trekkie, there is only one job I'd like to have in this list; The Chief Engineer of VSS Enterprise. :-)

History: Spaceshipone was scaled composite's Tier One Programme. This was funded by the Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The Spaceship Company (TSC) is licensing this technology from Scaled Composite for the build of SpaceShipTwo.

The Spaceship Company (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

AABAR Investments PJS: Virgin Galactic is jointly owned by Sir Richard Branson and AABAR Investments. They are based in Abu Dhabi. IPIC acquired a stake in AABAR in 2008 and currently owns 95%. They have made numerous investments in Daimler AG, Falcon Private Bank Ltd., Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Limited, UniCredit S.p.A., Galactic Ventures LLC, XOJET, Glencore International PLC, and a large portfolio of real estate projects.

More information: Virgin Galactic, Wikipedia, NASA Forums, National Geographic, and YouTube.

First Commercial Flight

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

Questions & Answers

When will it fly? After a large number of drop tests, the development is on schedule and very close to providing a safe and commercially viable suborbital space flight for the very first time.

First Commercial Flight Operations? Service is expected to start in 2014.

Flight Frequency? Daily.

Bookings? Virgin Galactic are taking bookings.

Ticket Limit? 1 per person.

Ticket Price? $200,000 USD in 2012 and expected to increase to $250,000 USD in 2013.

How Long In Space? The total duration of the flight is approximately 2.5 hours from take-off to landing. The micro-gravity environment will be for around 3 to 4 minutes during which time weightlessness will be experienced.

How High will it go? Outside Earth's atmosphere.

How Fast will it go? When the rocket engines starts, Spaceshipone will accelerate to Mach Speed, which is faster than the speed of sound.

How many customers? There were over 566 customers in 2013. This figure will rise.

Location of Space flights? Spaceport America.

Moon? Currently the craft is not capable of reaching the Moon, however there is every chance that Spaceshipthree or Spaceshipfour might. There are plenty of numbers left in the name.


These test flight videos are from the Press Release. With Kind Permission Virgin Galactic. I've simply converted them into an easily viewable format on the web page.


For those like me who will not be able to afford it, there is always the paper model. :-) Actually some of them are quite nice and worth trying out.

Model Kit / Model Rocket: There are many online shops selling model rockets and kits, and they are great fun and educational to construct.

The Virgin Galactic website has a great section showing how you can construct paper model planes. A good place to start for anyone aspiring to become a future astronaut or pilot. 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.

This article continues by using the links to the top-left of this page. You can see the interior of the spacecraft, rocket testing, the mothership, spaceport in the Mojave Desert, and WhiteKnightTwo cockpit.

Scientific & Engineering Published Articles

SpaceShipTwo Interior
SpaceShipTwo Rocket
Mojave Spaceport
SpaceShipTwo Specifications
SpaceShipTwo Video

Author: Peter J. Vis