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Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two Relies on Carbon Composites

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Beth Stackpole
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SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Beth Stackpole   3/27/2012 6:20:31 AM
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Is this a prototype of the space vehicle Richard Branson is behind, which would take average citizens (albeit those with big fat pocketbooks) into space flight? Any sense of how different the all-composite approach is on this craft compared to what Boeing accomplished with the Dreamliner 787?

Rob Spiegel
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Rob Spiegel   3/27/2012 10:47:07 AM
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This is great. It's good to see that one crazy guy -- Richard Branson -- can take the dream of space flight and move forward on his own without a government sponsored organization. He's getting closer and closer to making this dream happen. Rock on, Richard.

TJ McDermott
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
TJ McDermott   3/27/2012 12:42:39 PM
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Branson and Musk lead this third stage of human space exploration.  I do wish though, it had followed Clarke's timeline a bit more closely.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Rob Spiegel   3/27/2012 1:04:11 PM
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Yes, TJ, it's a shame we didn't meet Clarke's timetable. Back in 1967, Clarke's timetable actually seemed plausible. While much of the technology advancements (especially the Internet, military, and medical technology) have been impressive in the past few decades, exploration of space has been a disappointment. Perhaps it needs to be monetized to really leap forward -- in which case Branson may be on the right track.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Ann R. Thryft   3/27/2012 1:12:20 PM
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I agree with Rob, Clarke's timetable made a lot of sense back in the day. I'm not surprised we didn't meet it, though, seeing as how NASA's funding for the fun stuff dried up some time ago.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Rob Spiegel   3/27/2012 1:16:52 PM
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I agree, Ann. I think there has been a lack of clear vision for NASA. By clear, I mean a vision the voters can understand and get behind. The last clear vision was getting on the moon by the end of the 60s. That vision was tied to the fear of the USSR getting ahead of us in space. Once we landed on the moon, the vision was gone. Maybe the next vision is paid space travel, the ultimate amusement park.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Ann R. Thryft   3/27/2012 1:23:39 PM
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Rob, I was thinking more about funding, but you bring up an important point: effective PR and the images it portrays. PR is often considered to be a dirty word by engineers, but that's what drives a lot of perception, in this case, by the public, aka voters. Not only did landing on the moon end one vision, or image, but the USSR's fall ended the vision of competing with the Soviets.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Rob Spiegel   3/28/2012 1:07:58 PM
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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.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Ann R. Thryft   3/28/2012 1:57:42 PM
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That's exactly the sort of thing I mean by PR, and it sure does work. But you're right, there has to be a clear vision before all that effort can have an effect.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Rob Spiegel   3/28/2012 2:09:32 PM
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I agree, Ann. We didn't have a clear vision for the Shuttle mission that I can recall. I think it was just that we were doing experiments in space. So I'm not surprised that fizzled out.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Ann R. Thryft   3/27/2012 12:58:48 PM
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Yes, Beth, this is that spaceship. There are very few details about how composites have been used in SS2 on any of the websites I checked. However, both SS2 and WK2 are consistently described as "all-carbon- composite" which seems to mean the shell. It's also worthwhile to note that Scaled Composites, which built and tested previous-version vehicles, and did the same for the SS2 and WK2 prototypes, makes "speciality composite structures," so I'm guessing that the airframe structures are also made of composites. In other words, there are probably even more than in the 787.

Apparently, if you have enough money, as Branson does, you can fund all kinds of things.


Jerry dycus
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Re: SpaceShip Two Takes Flight
Jerry dycus   3/27/2012 9:51:38 PM
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            Hi Ann,

                     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. 

Charles Murray
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Scaled Composites
Charles Murray   3/27/2012 6:38:46 PM
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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.

Greg M. Jung
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Future Virgin Galactic Launches
Greg M. Jung   3/27/2012 9:46:47 PM
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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.

3drob
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Would you fly it?
3drob   3/28/2012 9:33:28 AM
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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.

cgosnell
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Re: Would you fly it?
cgosnell   3/28/2012 11:16:59 AM
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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.

Charles Murray
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Re: Would you fly it?
Charles Murray   3/28/2012 8:14:45 PM
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I'm a huge fan of Burt Rutan, too. That said, I'm not sure I'd fly in this. I think Rutan's appetite for adventure is a little different than mine.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Would you fly it?
Ann R. Thryft   3/29/2012 1:22:43 PM
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Much as I enjoy writing about spacecraft and airplanes, I wouldn't fly in this either. It's too small and I hate flying in small planes. The 747 is the only aircraft I've ever felt safe in.

 

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