The Scaled Composites Model 339 SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is a suborbital, air-launched spaceplane designed for space tourism. It is under development as part of the Tier 1b program under contract to The Spaceship Company, a California-based company that is wholly owned by its sister company Virgin Galactic. The Spaceship Company was formerly a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, but Virgin became the company's sole owner in 2012.
SpaceShipTwo is carried to its launch altitude by a jet-powered mothership, the Scaled Composites White Knight Two, before being released to fly on into the upper atmosphere, powered by a rocket motor. It then glides back to Earth and performs a conventional runway landing. The spaceship was officially unveiled to the public on 7 December 2009 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
On 29 April 2013, after nearly three years of unpowered testing, the
spacecraft successfully performed its first powered test flight.
Virgin Galactic plans to operate a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes in a private passenger-carrying service, starting in 2014, and have been taking bookings for some time, with a suborbital flight carrying an initial ticket price of US$200,000.[ The spaceplane could also be used to carry scientific payloads for NASA and other organisations.
The duration of the flights will be approximately 2.5 hours, though
only a few minutes of that will be in space. The price will initially be
More than 65,000 would-be space tourists applied for the first batch of
100 tickets. By December 2007, Virgin Galactic had 200 paid-up
customers on its books for the early flights, and 95% were passing the
6-8 g centrifuge tests. By the start of 2011, that number had increased to over 400 paid customers, and to 575 by early 2013.
In April 2013, Virgin Galactic announced that the price for a seat
would increase 25 percent to $250,000 before the middle of May 2013,
and would remain at $250,000 "until the first 1,000 people have
traveled, so that it matches up with inflation since [Virgin Galactic]
Following 50–100 test flights, the first paying customers are expected to fly aboard the craft in 2014.
Refining the projected schedule in late 2009, Virgin Galactic declined
to announce a firm timetable for commercial flights, but did reiterate
that initial flights would take place from Spaceport America. Operational roll-out will be based on a "safety-driven schedule". In addition to making suborbital passenger launches, Virgin Galactic will market SpaceShipTwo for suborbital space science missions.
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