SpaceShipTwo is a suborbital spaceplane
currently under development by The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, as part of the Tier 1b program.
The Virgin Galactic spaceliner plans to operate a fleet of five of these craft in passenger-carrying private spaceflight service starting in late 2011
The first spacecraft to be completed will be named VSS (Virgin Space Ship) Enterprise in honor of the fictional Starship Enterprise.
The SpaceShipTwo is, in part, based on technology developed for SpaceShipOne as part of the Scaled Composites Tier One program, funded by Paul Allen. The Spaceship Company is licensing this technology from Paul Allen's Mojave Aerospace Ventures.
According to an interview with designer Burt Rutan, the new craft will fly higher and have a longer downrange than SpaceShipOne, somewhere between 100 to 200 miles (160 to 320 kilometers). The maximum capacity will be eight people: six paying passengers and two pilots.
SpaceShipTwo will reach a speed of roughly 4000 km/h (2500 mph), using a single hybrid rocket motor. SpaceShipTwo uses a feathered re-entry system, feasible due to the low speed of re-entry — by contrast, space shuttles and other orbital spacecraft re-enter at orbital speeds, closer to 25000 km/h (16000 mph), requiring the use of heat shields. SpaceShipTwo will carry 6 passengers and 2 pilots and launch in midair at 15 km from its mother ship, WhiteKnightTwo.
The BBC reports that SpaceShipTwo's crew cabin will have about the same diameter as a Gulfstream V business jet, which is roughly 6 feet high by 7 feet wide (1.8 by 2.1 meters). Rutan is designing towards a maximum altitude of between 84 and 87 miles (135 to 140 km). The design of these craft was completed in late 2005, and the vehicle simulator was complete and construction had started by March 2006.
Both SpaceShipTwo and its new carrier aircraft, White Knight Two (first craft called Eve after Richard Branson's mother), will be roughly three times the size of the first generation spacecraft and mothership that won the Ansri X Prize. While details remain scant (although a sketch of SpaceShipTwo has appeared in Popular Mechanics, designer Burt Rutan says that SpaceShipTwo will have large porthole windowsfor the passengers' viewing pleasure, and all seats will recline back during landing to help decrease the discomfort of G-forces.Reportedly, the craft can land safely even if "catastrophic damage" occurs during the flight.