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WK2 and SS2 in Hangar   (Source: International Space Fellowship)
Flight testing is still ongoing for SS2

Space flight is an expensive proposition today and is limited for the most part to governments that spend billions to fund space programs. In the future, space flight may become much more affordable and everyday people may have the chance to become astronauts.

Virgin Galactic has already debuted its SpaceshipOne (SS1) spacecraft to the public. The follow up to that original spacecraft dubbed SpaceshipTwo (SS2) is now set for its first public unveiling along with its mothership the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2).

Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan are unveiling the SS2 and WK2 to the public this week and the craft has already made its maiden flight. SS2 hopes to start taking people on suborbital flights as soon as the test flights and required U.S. government licensing have been completed. SS2 is capable of carrying up to six "passenger astronauts" and up to two "pilot astronauts" into space on a sub-orbital flight.

The unveiling was held at the Mojave Air and Spaceport after dark. The unveiling was subject to regulatory requirements and the SS2 was attached to WK2 for the unveiling. The WK2 mothership will take the SS2 to an altitude of 50,000 feet before the spaceship drops and fires the rocket engines to carry the craft and passengers into sub-orbital space flight.

Governor Schwarzenegger of California and Governor Richardson of New Mexico were on hand to christen SS2 with the name Virgin Space Ship (VSS) Enterprise. The name was chosen in honor of the history of naming Royal Navy and U.S. Navy ships Enterprise and in honor of the Star Trek spacecraft.

The design and operation of the Virgin Galactic program has resulted in a number of new jobs being created. International Space Fellowship reports that a recent study claims 12,500 new jobs were created by the new companies involved in the project. About 600 workers are now involved in the project and that number is expected to climb to 1,100 at the peak of construction.

The maiden voyage of WK2 and SS2 lasted about an hour and the aircraft reached an altitude of 16,000 feet. Once the testing program is complete and space flights commence a ticket will cost travelers $200,000.

Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic said, “This is truly a momentous day. The team has created not only a world first but also a work of art. The unveil of SS2 takes the Virgin Galactic vision to the next level and continues to provide tangible evidence that this ambitious project is not only moving rapidly, but also making tremendous progress towards our goal of safe commercial operation.”

Burt Rutan, Founder of Scaled Composites added, “All of us at Scaled are tremendously excited by the capabilities of both the mothership and SS2.  Today is the culmination of a dream that began many decades ago, was stimulated by Paul Allen’s funding of our X-Prize winning SS1 and then moved forward to commercial reality by Sir Richard and Virgin’s visionary investment in a new future for space transportation.”

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Is it just me
By amanojaku on 12/8/2009 10:56:37 AM , Rating: 3
Or does $1.2M per flight seem a bit low? What amount of profit is each flight expected to bring?

RE: Is it just me
By Rinadien on 12/8/2009 11:10:38 AM , Rating: 4
If memory serves, this is a 2-3 hour flight, with about 5-6 minutes spent in weightlessness... So it's not like they spend a week on the ISS... for 30+ mil.

RE: Is it just me
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 12/8/2009 11:19:54 AM , Rating: 3
Its not how much it costs, its how much it makes. What is the margin on this flight? Their costs may reduce the margin to a loss at $1.2M regardless of duration.

Anyway, if you just want weightlessness, try the vomit comet. I think this one is all about the altitude.

RE: Is it just me
By rs1 on 12/8/2009 3:57:03 PM , Rating: 3
Their costs may reduce the margin to a loss at $1.2M regardless of duration.

That seems unlikely, provided you don't include their initial R&D expenditures in their operating costs. $1.2M in revenue per flight compares favorably to domestic airlines, which might bring in only a fraction of that amount even on large transcontinental flights.

I don't think their operating costs should be very high, given that their only ongoing expenses should be fuel and maintenance. The carrier aircraft uses standard jet engines, and thus should be no worse than a standard airliner as far as fuel is concerned. The orbital vehicle uses a hybrid rocket engine that uses 10,000 pounds of nitrous oxide as the oxidizer, with some sort of solid fuel. I'm not sure about the costs of the solid fuel portion, but an average price for nitrous seems to be about $5 per pound, so that's $50,000 per trip. Unless the solid fuel portion is extremely expensive, I think the fuel costs should be well covered.

And as far as maintenance goes, I don't think it should really be any worse than the maintenance schedule for a large airliner like a 747 or A380. As Virgin's aircraft is significantly smaller than either of those, and probably has fewer amenities, creature comforts, and other complexities, the maintenance effort may even be on the lighter side.

If the domestic airlines are able to turn a profit (of course, it's debatable whether or not they actually are turning a profit) on less than $1.2M in revenue per flight, then I see no reason why Virgin should not be profitable with its spaceflights. It may take them quite awhile to recoup their R&D costs, but I think $1.2M per flight should more than cover their operating costs.

RE: Is it just me
By Redwin on 12/8/2009 11:54:27 AM , Rating: 1
Where does the $1.2 million number come from? As far as I know the cost for a ticket on Virgin Galactic has always been published as $200K, and they have about 700 people signed up and prepaid for flights already at that price?

It *IS* suborbital though, so you only get about 5 minutes of weightlessness, which, if I understand correctly, is generally not enough time to get over your overwhelming desire to vomit, lol :)

RE: Is it just me
By Rinadien on 12/8/2009 11:57:18 AM , Rating: 4
1.2 mil per flight, 6 passangers at 200k each...

RE: Is it just me
By mcnabney on 12/8/2009 12:03:45 PM , Rating: 5
For $200k I better get a happy ending.

RE: Is it just me
By Redwin on 12/8/2009 12:16:11 PM , Rating: 2
Ah-Ha! Thank you, your clarification is very clarifying, and fairly obvious in retrospect. :)

RE: Is it just me
By geddarkstorm on 12/8/2009 12:01:51 PM , Rating: 2
They are a company, so obviously it's good enough, or they'd go under :P

RE: Is it just me
By amanojaku on 12/8/2009 12:48:20 PM , Rating: 1
It wouldn't be the first company to go under because of a bad business plan. Look at Richard Branson's own failures:

1) Virgin Games
2) Virgin Brides
3) Virgin Cars
4) Virgin Megastore
5) Virgin Digital

$200K per person seems a bit cheap for space flight. But this isn't space flight. I just looked it up and this goes as high as 70,000 ft, or 13 miles. NASA and others peg space flight at 50 miles. This is just a 2.5 hour plane ride with 6 minutes worth of weightless novelty.

And, yes, I do know they market it as "sub-orbital" space flight.

RE: Is it just me
By knownunknowns on 12/8/2009 1:17:02 PM , Rating: 4
You might want to look it up again. SpaceShipTwo has an intended apogee of almost 70 miles, not 70,000 feet.

Maybe you looked up the max altitude of White Knight II.

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