Virgin Galactic was awarded recently by U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation with operator’s license for their SpaceShipTwo. Virgin announced about FAA certification on August 1, 2016.
This is crucial moment for Virgin Galactic – their effort was awarded and now Company is able to start commercial flights with their space plane. Designed by Scaled Composites vehicle was intended for space tourism and will be lifted under Scaled Composites WhiteKnightTwo. After deploying on altitude of 15 km it will continue flight with own propulsion on suborbital trajectory to apogee at 110 km. During flight space planet will reach speed of 4600 km/h. SpaceShipTwo is twice as big as first Virgin Galactic space plane, SpaceShipOne. With wingspan at 8.2 m and length at 18 m, vehicle is offering place for six passengers and two pilots. They will have quite comfortable conditions in cabin long for 3.7 m m and wide for 2.3 m (8.5 cubic meters) with large windows (43 cm diameter) on both sides of fuselage and smaller (33 cm diameter) on the top. Two SpaceShipTwo space planes were built already: VSS Enterprise and unveiled on February 2016 VSS Unity. Both were powered with Sierra Nevada solid fueled (HTPB) RocketMotorTwo engines with thrust at 270 kN. Engines were originally designed by SNC, but in 2014 Virgin Galactic decided to cancel further cooperation with Sierra Nevada and started development of the propulsion only with Scaled Composites. After loss VSS Enterprise during disaster on October 2014, Company was forced to build another vehicle. It will operate for flight tests from Mojave Air and Space Port in California, but for planned commercial flights new spaceport in New Mexico will be utilized: Spaceport America, partially sponsored by state authorities and finished in 2011.
Manned flights will last or around 2.5 hour and price was set for $250000 per one place; Virgin Galactic is also participating in NASA Flight Opportunities Program and will provide 3 to 5 minutes of microgravity conditions for 500 kg of NASA scientific payload.
On picture above: WhiteKnightTwo with SpaceShipTwo under the central wing.