Virgin Galactic has been working on perfecting its second-generation SpaceShip Two prototype commercial spaceship, made primarily of carbon composites, for more than two years. Recently, Virgin Galactic test pilot David Mackay reportedly told attendees of the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference that the company hopes to perform suborbital tests of the spaceship during 2012.
Mackay said that Virgin hopes to install the rocket motor and start powered flight testing of the spaceship during the later part of the year. (You can access test summaries here.)
The VSS Enterprise, the first of five SpaceShip Two commercial spacecraft, all with all-carbon-composite structures, returns to Earth in its first feather, or unpowered, flight on May 4, 2011. (Source: Clay Center Observatory)
SpaceShipTwo is being built and tested by The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between the Virgin Group and Scaled Composites. Scaled Composites, owned by Northrop Grumman, is a specialist in the design, tooling, and manufacturing of aircraft, as well as of specialty composite structures. It also does developmental flight tests of both air and space vehicles.
Scaled Composites built and tested the prototypes of both SpaceShip Two and Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnight Two, the high-altitude launch vehicle that will catapult SpaceShip Two out of the atmosphere. The WhiteKnight Two carrier aircraft is the largest all-carbon-composite aviation vehicle ever built, according to Virgin's Website. The Spaceship Company began shifting the building and testing of both craft into commercial production in March 2010.
SpaceShip Two employs the same technology, carbon composite construction, and design as Scaled Composites' original SpaceShip One, a high-altitude manned research rocket designed for suborbital flight, and the first private manned spacecraft. At 60 feet in length, the newer craft is about twice the size of SpaceShip One and is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots.
Very little technical detail is available about either SpaceShip Two's or WhiteKnight Two's construction, except that they are reportedly made entirely from carbon composites. However, a page on HowStuffWorks says that the carbon composite shell is sandwiched around a honeycomb core. That makes me think of Hexcel's HexWeb honeycomb core composite material used in both the aircraft structure and the blades of Sikorsky Aircraft's S-97 Raider helicopters the US Army is evaluating. There, it's being used primarily to shed as much weight as possible, which is obviously extremely important in a suborbital vehicle.
I think the PR -- or even just a clear vision -- is critical. Congress members will support programs that their constituents believe in. To bolster the space program in the 60s, NASA made the astronauts into celebrities, even heros. It was quite a PR effort involving photo spreads in "Life." It worked.
I had the chance to talk to Burt Rutan at an Experimental Aircraft Association Convention in the '80's. I would trust his Engineering judgement over the next 20 people at NASA. The culture at NASA could not have come up with this solution.
I think Mr. Rutan once commented that NASA would spend more than their Scaled Composites' whole budget just to study the concept.
If Burt Rutan says its OK, I would fly it in a minute.
Given unlimited money, would you pre-book a flight on one of these? Given Branson and Musk's record, I wouldn't bet my life on one.
Hopefully they can take lots of money from easy marks (err, I mean forward thinking crazy rich folks) creating a space tourism market (or at least steal some of the market from the Russians). Then perhaps their company can translate their platforms to deliver scientific payloads into space inexpensivly. Then we all will benefit.
It's a shame that NASA has become an under-funded joke, leaving this our best hope of staying in space.
It's mostly all CF because the weight advantage of CF and only using one material cuts inter material stresses, a particularly bad trait of CF so best not mix it with other material.
It's using a Core!!! Of course it uses cores probably of many types. One problem in the vaccum of space the air pressure inside the cores is a serious problem especially with honeycomb. It can make the skin explode so would be interesting on how they handled that.
I learned some cool composite tricks from Rutan he used in his early carnard wing homebuilt aircraft designs he started his career with back in the 70's before he became the rockstar he is now which he richly deserves.
It shows what 1 man can do given, making the freedom to do the impossible, will. And show big corps for what they are, useless to do anything really new.
Like the car industry bringing out big, bloated overpriced, weight EV's because they really don't want them being made or be successful.
This article prompts me to think about the next phase of Virgin's business venture in space. Along with future sub-orbital space science missions and orbital launches of small satellites, I've read where Virgin Galactic is also hoping to offer orbital human spaceflights as well.
They couldn't ask for a better company to do the flight tests on the composites. Scaled Composites knows more about this technology than anyone -- they built the Voyager aircraft that flew around the world without refueling in 1986.
Inspired by the hooks a parasitic worm uses to penetrate its host's intestines, the Karp Lab has invented a flexible adhesive patch covered with microneedles that adheres well to wet, soft tissues, but doesn't cause damage when removed.
Researchers at the Missouri University of Science & Technology have designed a new nanoscale material that can transmit light faster than the 186,000 miles per second it usually takes to travel through air.
It has often been said that as California goes, so goes the nation. This spring, the state's wind power is setting energy generation records and solar energy generation is expected to rise sharply during the second half of 2013.
A quick look into the merger of two powerhouse 3D printing OEMs and the new leader in rapid prototyping solutions, Stratasys. The industrial revolution is now led by 3D printing and engineers are given the opportunity to fully maximize their design capabilities, reduce their time-to-market and functionally test prototypes cheaper, faster and easier. Bruce Bradshaw, Director of Marketing in North America, will explore the large product offering and variety of materials that will help CAD designers articulate their product design with actual, physical prototypes. This broadcast will dive deep into technical information including application specific stories from real world customers and their experiences with 3D printing. 3D Printing is