Virgin Galactic Rolls Out SpaceShipTwo

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The public, or at least the press and politicians and a few aviation luminaries, got a first look at SpaceShipTwo in Mojave on Monday evening, at a grand rollout event hosted by Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and designer Burt Rutan. "This is truly a momentous day," said Branson. "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." To honor a long line of ships in the U.S. Navy and Britain's Royal Navy, as well as spaceships flown by NASA and perhaps most famously in Star Trek,, SS2 was christened Virgin Space Ship (VSS) Enterprise. The name also "looks to the future of the role of private enterprise in the development of the exploration, industrialisation and human habitation of space," according to Virgin Galactic's news release. The spaceship, which holds six passengers and two pilots, will start flight tests early next year. SS2 was rolled out mated to its WhiteKnightTwo carrier vehicle, which has already been flying for about a year and has mostly finished its flight-test phase.

The SS2 design will be refined and completed during the test program, according to the news release. It will be powered by a unique hybrid rocket motor similar to the one used for SS1, which is currently under development. The test phase will last 18 to 24 months, "or longer, if safety dictates," the company said. "We are not in a race, we will launch only when we are content that it is safe to do so." The tests will begin with captive-carry flights, then flights allowing the spacecraft to disengage from WK2 for glide tests, followed by powered flights, according to EAA. First spaceflights with paying customers could come as early as 2011. The company said plans are to fly 500 people in the first year and 50,000 in the first 10 years, at about $200,000 per seat. The rollout event featured a christening of SS2 by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, as well as a cocktail party under the desert stars for about 900 guests.