Last week I was in Mojave, hearing Virgin Galactic update the world on its progress in creating the world’s first commercial space line. Rolling out of the hanger was White Knight 2. This is a giant new composite aircraft that will loft a spaceship to high altitude. She looked stunning: shiny, colourful and ever-so slightly alien. The work of Burt Rutan’s team at the company Scaled Composites. A lot of work remains. Much testing and firing of engines, followed by flights that get incrementally higher.
As ever, the press unveiling was handled with just a little bit of PR pzazz by the Virgin team. Partway through the press conference, a giant curtain was zipped away to reveal White Knight 2 standing on a bit of airstrip that the press had been walking over just half an hour before. Behind her, perfectly lined up for the press photos, was one of Virgin America’s new planes. The Airbus was called “My other ride is a spaceship”.
There is less progress to report with the spaceship. She was in the Scaled hangar, covered by black dustsheets but clearly unfinished. Although she is 60% or 70% complete (depending on who you speak with) no work has been done on her for the last year. Work stopped after an explosion almost a year ago that killed three engineers and seriously injured three others.
A report on this is imminent, and word has it that work on the spaceship will resume after the report... and that the project will continue with its use of hybrid rockets.
Someone mentioned to me that the team will be modifying the engine to make sure that nitrogen oxidiser in the engine does not flow over composite material at all, only metal parts. I’ve no idea how this could have been involved in any explosion, but if any readers do--you can email me at email@example.com
Links to the piece follow:
Knight in shining armour
Private space tourism is just the beginning Jul 31st 2008