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SpaceShipTwo  (Source: Virgin Galactic)
Virgin Galactic takes an important step towards commercial space travel

After ground tests that lasted all of last week in preparation for a real launch, Virgin Galactic successfully made its maiden voyage with the WhiteKnightTwo double-wide plane.

The hour-long test mission went according to plan, as the craft took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.  Powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A turbofan engines, the odd looking WhiteKnightTwo powered down the runway and took off with no problems.  After takeoff at 8:17 a.m. PST, it safely landed at the Mojave Air and Space Port at 9:17 a.m. PST.

The craft reached an altitude of 16,000 feet -- 4,000 feet higher than what was originally scheduled by flight coordinators.

"The maiden flight went perfectly," Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn told Wired.com.  "With these aircraft, nothing is ever a foregone conclusion.  It's not like pulling another AirBus off the line and putting it into the air. This was a big moment.  I think it was a big milestone for the whole industry."

Virgin Galactic hopes WhiteKnightTwo will be able to one day carry SpaceShipTwo into suborbital flight for paying space tourists.  The company has five SpaceShipTwo and two WhiteKnightTwo aircraft on order ready for construction, depending on how the tests go.  

A ticket aboard the two pilots, six person craft will cost excited travelers $200,000.  The price of the suborbital flight is just a fraction of the $20 to 35 million price tag space tourists pay to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) for a week.

The SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize money after it became the first non-governmental piloted rocket ship to head into suborbital flight.



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Virgin Space.
By cheetah2k on 12/22/2008 5:45:04 PM , Rating: 2
At the rate things are going, I reckon by the time Obama works out how NASA are going to get to the moon, Virgin will have already been there....

Maybe NASA and Virgin need a joint venture. They certainly need capital funding and appropriate leadership right now to avoid unintentionally dropping the ball big time.




RE: Virgin Space.
By maven81 on 12/22/2008 6:29:04 PM , Rating: 5
Virgin hasn't even done an orbital flight, and you're talking about going to the moon?! I know it's become fashionable to slug NASA off lately, but it's been decades since they've accomplished milestones that private spaceflight has yet to get to... docking, spacewalks, space based assembly and repair etc. I'm sure private industry will get there... but it's not going to be in a couple of years.


RE: Virgin Space.
By Gul Westfale on 12/22/2008 6:36:19 PM , Rating: 5
all of that is true, but you must consider two things:

1.) today's technology is far more advanced, we have better materials, electronics, etc; and also we have the experience from the NASA/soviet missions of long ago to build on,

2.) private companies are in it for PROFIT, and that means they are extremely motivated.


RE: Virgin Space.
By Marduke on 12/22/2008 9:34:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
all of that is true, but you must consider two things: 1.) today's technology is far more advanced, we have better materials, electronics, etc; and also we have the experience from the NASA/soviet missions of long ago to build on,


True, and all those things are thanks to decades of NASA research


RE: Virgin Space.
By Gul Westfale on 12/22/2008 11:52:54 PM , Rating: 3
which is why i said "we have the experience from the NASA/soviet missions of long ago to build on"...


RE: Virgin Space.
By melgross on 12/23/2008 2:33:32 AM , Rating: 2
It will cost billions to get back to the moon, no matter who does it. Possibly, ten billion. Which commercial enterprise will be willing to take that kind of risk for a very uncertain payoff?

Suborbital flights are one thing, not even that difficult. Orbital flights are much more difficult, and much more expensive.


RE: Virgin Space.
By Bruneauinfo on 12/23/2008 5:32:36 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
Which commercial enterprise will be willing to take that kind of risk for a very uncertain payoff?


You're asking the wrong question. The correct question for private enterprise is: what kind of payoff will be required for commercial enterprise to take that kind of risk?

And the answer is: profits that are greater than the risks. Commercial enterprise, unlike the broad-minded and purely intentioned space enthusiast, won't do anything that it doesn't believe will be profitable. If there's no money to be made on the moon they won't go.


RE: Virgin Space.
By Ratinator on 12/23/2008 5:17:11 PM , Rating: 2
For those who think NASA should be privated, the poster's comment above is the exact reason that NASA should never be privatized.

Private = Space for Profit
NASA = Space for Science

The private sector will do very little in terms of scientific ventures as there would be almost no way to profit from it.


RE: Virgin Space.
By Clauzii on 12/23/2008 7:17:48 AM , Rating: 2
When fusion power gets usable as an energy source, it is actually the moon they look to for getting triterium, one of the ingredients needed for fueling the reactors. And even though it's not cheap going to the moon, it has been calculated to be cheaper than finding enough triterium on earth.


RE: Virgin Space.
By myhipsi on 12/23/2008 8:20:40 AM , Rating: 2
You mean Tritium (Hydrogen-3)?


RE: Virgin Space.
By Marduke on 12/23/2008 9:59:44 AM , Rating: 2
Neither. We want the He3 on the moon (heavy helium)


RE: Virgin Space.
By cheetah2k on 12/23/2008 6:14:08 PM , Rating: 3
... So we can blow up balloons, breath in and speak like the chipmunks


RE: Virgin Space.
By AnnihilatorX on 12/24/2008 5:14:15 AM , Rating: 2
3He is light Helium...
Helium normally has 4 hadrons, 2 protons 2 neutrons.
With 1 neutron it's light helium, if this term exists.


RE: Virgin Space.
By ikkeman2 on 12/23/2008 2:11:40 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
2.) private companies are in it for PROFIT, and that means they are extremely motivated.

only if there's profit to be made...


RE: Virgin Space.
By maven81 on 12/23/2008 3:02:32 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is that technology is only part of the equation, the other part is experience. You could build a spacecraft that's lighter, stronger, and with a better computer then anything NASA could do in the 60s, no doubt. But there's no "docking for dummies", or "radiation shielding for idiots", or a "life support systems 101" class that you could take.
Perhaps if you could grab a NASA engineer to advise you you could speed things up, but otherwise you're basically starting from scratch. You're bound to make newbie mistakes. I'm not saying you'll never solve these problems, but it will take time. To put it differently, it's not enough to have a car, you must also learn how to drive, and I estimate that even with all the new technology it will take private industry at least a decade to catch up.


RE: Virgin Space.
By JosefTor on 12/23/2008 4:14:43 AM , Rating: 2
I'm definitely excited about the private space race and do wish NASA did work with these companies more. To make that possible though more funding is needed for the space program.

I don't know which company I am more excited about.... Virgin or the company that is using the Atlas rockets. Is that Bigelow Aerospace?


RE: Virgin Space.
By BZDTemp on 12/23/2008 9:14:52 AM , Rating: 2
I do not get the excitement. We are not talking about projects that have any practical use - i.e. what is being made are like a new version of roller coasters.

Neither Virgin or it's rivals are trying to do more than reach the edge of space of a few moments. It's not sufficient time to do scientific experiments in zero-gravity or any other thing - it's just something for the rich similar to the people that pay to be all but carried to the top of K2 or to one of the poles.

If the experiments was about traveling really fast AND environmentally friendly then I could see the point. But for now I'd rather the would focus on improving fuel efficiency in regular air traffic.


RE: Virgin Space.
By MadMan007 on 12/23/2008 10:43:21 AM , Rating: 3
Bigelow Aerospace? Are they going to follow Virgin's naming examples and call their suborbital ship the Deuce?


RE: Virgin Space.
By niva on 12/23/2008 11:34:14 AM , Rating: 2
I think they're going to call it "big duke"...

At least they should, I'd LOL!


RE: Virgin Space.
By DavyCrocket2003 on 12/23/2008 11:34:53 AM , Rating: 2
Quote:I don't know which company I am more excited about.... Virgin or the company that is using the Atlas rockets.

What about the company who has already launched their own rocket into orbit? Spacex is definitely the most exciting company out there. They can send their payloads into low earth orbit, or geostationary transfer orbits (ready to go out into space). They are preparing to launch the Falcon 9 that will very likely serve NASA in supplying the space station. You should check them out!


When I'm about 50...
By Azsen on 12/22/2008 7:57:48 PM , Rating: 3
When I'm about 50 and probably bored I'm totally going to blow $200k on a sub-orbital flight like that. Hopefully the price comes down by then though because you could buy a nice house with that.




RE: When I'm about 50...
By Noya on 12/23/2008 7:13:05 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
you could buy a nice house with that.


Or a Ferrari. Or an airplane. Or lots of blow and perfect ten escorts.


RE: When I'm about 50...
By tmouse on 12/23/2008 8:08:15 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
When I'm about 50 and probably bored I'm totally going to blow $200k on a sub-orbital flight like that. Hopefully the price comes down by then though because you could buy a nice house with that .


Not in New York

Sometimes I think the way things are going the only thing you will be able to get with 200k comes with a side order of fries ; )

(and even that may cost extra)


Insert joke here:
By austinag on 12/22/2008 5:44:20 PM , Rating: 5
All in one article;

Virgin
Mothership
Maiden Voyage
WhiteKnight
Doublewide

Wow. It's just to easy.




RE: Insert joke here:
By BruceLeet on 12/22/2008 6:40:43 PM , Rating: 1
Maiden Voyeur


Bargain?
By Gholam on 12/23/2008 1:51:05 AM , Rating: 2
$200k for a few minutes at the edge of atmosphere versus $20m for a week in actual space. Of course a suborbital hop is cheaper, but the trip to ISS sounds like much better value.




RE: Bargain?
By Dribble on 12/23/2008 7:06:56 AM , Rating: 2
Quite right, now where did I put that $20m.


RE: Bargain?
By PhoenixKnight on 12/23/2008 10:27:46 AM , Rating: 2
Check your tuxedo pockets or the glove compartment of your Rolls Royce. That's usually where I misplace my $20M.


hhhmmm....
By ctodd on 12/23/2008 9:36:28 AM , Rating: 2
So, who flys the plane? The right or the left... or the middle?? Too many choices!! I think I'm confused.

It would be hilarious listening to the pilots communicate with each other. “Uhhhh… hey Ted, you drop your end and I’ll raise mine… uhhh, wait a minute… maybe I should drop mine and you raise yours… oh damn, uhhh… hell, let’s just drop both ends together, that will make it fly straight I guess”.

Chris.




RE: hhhmmm....
By Raidin on 1/6/2009 6:23:44 PM , Rating: 2
The WhiteKnightTwo is the large aircraft with the left and right fuselage. The pilot is probably in one of them, but they may have 2 cockpits for all I know. (I didn't research it)

The middle fuselage, if you look closely, is actually one small ship, SpaceShipTwo. This detaches from WhiteKnightTwo, its carrier ship (mothership) at high altitude, and uses its rocket engine to reach sub-orbital levels. This is done, of course, to remove the need for the huge engines needed to propel anything from the ground to that altitude (think space shuttle + its boosters).


Congratulations!
By kattanna on 12/23/2008 10:16:20 AM , Rating: 2
I was there when scaled composites won the X-prize. was an exciting day.

I wish them continuing luck in their pursuit of bringing space travel, however brief at this time, to the general public.




Private corps in space
By Cascaderanger on 12/24/2008 1:53:47 PM , Rating: 2
If rumors of Obamas rift with NASA are to be believed, there will be plenty of ex-NASA folks available. I hope the pres-elect isnt so obsessed with green this and mewling feel good drivel that, that he gives up on space exploration. A nation obsessed with entitlements isnt going anywhere.

If mankind is to have any meaningful future; it lies outside of our home atmosphere. Spaceborn industry and colonization are the future. The generation that fought WW-II drove the infrastructure that put men on the moon. What will your generation do? Abandon space? How will Americans be remembered? As the country that 'almost' made space travel an everyday thing? Or as adventurers, explorers, and being brave enough to dare storm the heavens?

Go big or go home; as the popular saying goes.

'A man without a dream, is dead.' -Einstein.




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