Virgin Galactic Unveils Spaceshiptwo
Only 450 people have ever been to space, but if Sir Richard Branson has his way, that number will climb - and quickly.
On Monday at dusk in the Mojave Desert, Branson unveiled his latest baby, Spaceship2, pictured at right, the second in his fleet of intergalactic shuttles. SS2 was designed to take thousands of private astronauts into space after test programming and all required U.S. government licensing and regulatory approvals have been completed, which, could could take quite some time.
"This is truly a momentous day," said Branson. "The team has created not only a world first but also a work of art."
He added that the unveil "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."
Branson and designer Burt Rutan have been working on the Virgin Galactic space program since 2004 when the legendary airline founder partnered with Rutan, the aviation designer who had previously designed the world's first manned commercial spaceship, SpaceshipOne. In 2004, SpaceshipOne was successfully tested, reaching a height of 330,000 feet and earning it the $10 million Ansari X-Prize for the first non-government human space flight.
The unveiling undoubtedly represents another major milestone for Branson's quest to develop the first commercial line offering non-astronauts access to space travel. We've reported on the Abu Dhabi Sheikh who's invested in the company, and the formula one drivers Rubens Barrichello and Niki Lauda, who've already paid the $200,000 ticket fee to be on an early flight - daring Lauda is even willing to pilot a trip.
The SS2 unveiling wasn't without it's star power either: Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Chris Richardson of New Mexico christened SS2 with the name Virgin Space Ship Enterprise. The design will still be further refined then undergo an extensive test-flying program. The plan is for it to carry up to six passenger astronauts and two pilot astronauts into space on a suborbital flight.
Stay tuned for the next chapter in Branson's Virgin Galactic adventure.