Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two Relies on Carbon Composites
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)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a surface preparation method to improve joining carbon composites with aluminum, with potentially far-reaching ramifications for high-volume industrial applications.
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