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Unveiling the Future

SpaceShipTwo christened VSS Enterprise at Mojave event

SS2 Unveiling
SpaceShipTwo is seen for the first time, mated to mothership WhiteKnightTwo. Jim Koepnick photos

SS2 Unveiling
Tom and Sharon Poberezny with WhiteKnightTwo pilot Pete Seibold (left) prior to the unveiling event Monday at Mojave, California.

Gov. Schwarzenegger
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke prior to the SpaceShipTwo unveiling.

Richardson and Schwarzenegger
Governors Bill Richardson (New Mexico) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (California) christen SpaceShipTwo the VSS Enterprise at the December 7 unveiling in Mojave, California as Sir Richard Branson looks on.

December 7, 2009—Private commercial spaceflight inched closer to reality Monday as Virgin Galactic took the wraps off SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Enterprise, during a special unveiling event at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. More than 800 guests and media from around the world were on hand as Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson and Scaled Composites Founder Burt Rutan pulled the wraps off the sleek space liner that will be the first vehicle to offer commercial suborbital space flights to the paying public.

“It could not have gone better,” said EAA President/Chairman Tom Poberezny, who was in attendance. “To see WhiteKnightTwo mated to SpaceShipTwo for the first time was indeed a sight to behold.

“It was very dramatic to see, beyond all expectations.”

Test flights are expected to begin in Mojave early next year, beginning with captive-carry flights, then flights allowing the spacecraft to disengage from the mothership WhiteKnightTwo for glide tests, followed by powered flights. First spaceflights with paying customers could come as early as 2011.
Christened the VSS Enterprise, SS2 draws heavily on the experience gained from SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004 - but not so much the design. SS2 is a completely new space vehicle, capable of carrying up to six passenger astronauts and two pilot astronauts into space on a sub-orbital flight.

Just like SS1 and WhiteKnight, the mothership WhiteKnightTwo, which was a major highlight last year at AirVenture, will lift VSS Enterprise to about 50,000 feet, then drop the spacecraft. From there, its rubber and alcohol-powered rocket engine will thrust it into suborbital space - an altitude above 100-kilometers (62 miles). Following a four-minute period of weightlessness, the innovative feathering tail will then deploy, allowing the spacecraft to stabilize for a “carefree re-entry” and subsequent glide back to the ground.

“EAAers Dick and Burt Rutan and Mike Melvill – all the people at Scaled Composites are deservedly very proud today,” Poberezny said. “It’s also an exciting time for EAA, and I am very proud that EAA has played a role in the development of this program and continues to be a part of it. The EAA spirit of innovation is present, and all EAA members should be proud.”

Host Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California called introducing SS2 “One of the coolest things I’ve ever done.” Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, where a new commercial spaceport is under construction, called on the Obama administration to “embrace commercial space travel.” Both governors participated in the official christening that took place despite high wind and cold temperatures.

Rutan commented, “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.”

Branson added, “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.”

See more photos of the unveiling ceremony at Oshkosh365.

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