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December 7, 2009 1:04 PM   Subscribe


 
Daily flights? Wow. I wonder what the environmental impact of this thing will be.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:08 PM on December 7, 2009


Suborbital is one thing. Orbital, quite another.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:10 PM on December 7, 2009


Looks like it's going to be a tight squeeze getting my hot tub in there.
posted by The Straightener at 1:11 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Rutan is a global warming skeptic, so I imagine he doesn't think there is much or any environmental impact from his aircraft.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:16 PM on December 7, 2009


Is he? Woohoo! Burn rubber! (and nitrous oxide)
posted by Artw at 1:18 PM on December 7, 2009


excuse me - Ive got something in my eye.
posted by The Whelk at 1:21 PM on December 7, 2009


Suborbital is one thing. Orbital, quite another.

Yeah, based solely on raw volume this thing simply can't have enough fuel in it to hit orbit. Can it?
posted by GuyZero at 1:23 PM on December 7, 2009


Rutan is a global warming skeptic, so I imagine he doesn't think there is much or any environmental impact from his aircraft.

Perhaps he'll start taking daily photos from SpaceShipTwo, that we can all watch as a timelapse film someday when the oceans have burned away, at your own local annual hubris party.
posted by davejay at 1:25 PM on December 7, 2009


Oh, and countdown to Fark using this photo for a photoshop thread in 3...2...1...
posted by davejay at 1:26 PM on December 7, 2009


Can it?

Well, the new "mother" ship will release it at a newer, higher altitude of 50,000 ft.

So, no.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:26 PM on December 7, 2009


Branson unveils Spaceship Three.
posted by netbros at 1:26 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


No, it's not orbital -- it's basically ballistic. Up to 100km, a short glide for some weightlessness, and back down to land again.

The design is very similar to SS1 -- the arrangement is actually a 2-part craft; a twin-fuselage "carrier" aircraft, and a single-fuselage passenger craft. The carrier flies on normal engines up to about 60kfeet and then drops the passenger craft, which lights off its hybrid rocket booster and zooms to the edge of space.

I'm unclear on how they propose to do daily turnarounds -- presumably through a fleet of passenger craft rather than short-turnaround engine swaps.
posted by nonspecialist at 1:29 PM on December 7, 2009


Just looking at the mothership, I can't imagine that it isn't going to snap in two, with both the fuselages going their own separate ways. I'm sure that the engineers have the math all done, but that is a lot of gizmo reliance to be sure that the tail rudders do exactly the same thing with 0% failure. I wouldn't mind flying in it, but not at that price and not until I'd lived a good long life first.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:29 PM on December 7, 2009


Daily flights? Wow. I wonder what the environmental impact of this thing will be.

If they're going to continue to use the nitrous oxide and polymer hybrid motor it will likely be less than a cross country jumbo jet. Perhaps a lot less. The carrier craft is really efficient as well.

I don't have the math to back this up but I was at the two X-Prize launches for SpaceShipOne and it's a remarkably tiny and efficient pair of aircraft. The whole design philosophy is less is more, doing it safely and predictably with as little as possible.

There are a lot of things that probably release more greenhouse gases and carbon. A NASCAR race. Driving a gross-polluting vehicle. A labor day weekend of off-roaders on the dunes. One sub-division's worth of 2-stroke gas powered weedwhackers and blowers, or snow mobiles.

But I think that the more people that we can get to see that pale, fragile blue arc the better, and I'm glad Rutan is doing it in such a graceful way.

Hell, I want to send every luminary, government official and policy maker or plain old excessively rich person I can up in that thing so they can see just how small it all really is - including themselves.
posted by loquacious at 1:33 PM on December 7, 2009 [11 favorites]


To clarify, I was more thinking about holes getting punched in various strata of the atmosphere and less about CO2 emissions. But, yeah, I'd take a ride without being asked twice.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:36 PM on December 7, 2009


In related "Virgin" news: Virgin Wants You to Hook Up with a Hot Gay Angel
posted by ericb at 1:37 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like the name, very catchy, maybe we'll call it the V-2 for short. Can you imagine if Karl Benz had done this though? He did, kinda, but it would seem just as hilarious if you could buy the latest MotorWagen Eighty-Seven. What happened to cool and interesting names, like Virgin Hubris? Virgin Aloft? Virgin InTheSkyWithDiamonds?
posted by Sova at 1:38 PM on December 7, 2009


I like Rutan's earlier designs. His VariEze airframe recently obtained 45 mpg at 207 mph. It was fitted with a somewhat modernized engine with parts from this company.

Just looking at the mothership, I can't imagine that it isn't going to snap in two, with both the fuselages going their own separate ways.

I saw the mothership (WhiteKnight Two) flying at Oshkosh this year and can testify that it does fly! It did some maneuvers but nothing with a high G force. The aircraft was shockingly quiet with efficient high-bypass turbofans.
posted by exogenous at 1:38 PM on December 7, 2009


There are a lot of things that probably release more greenhouse gases and carbon.

Of course. And it's a rich man's toy, so no one would dare argue against these flights on that basis alone. But when it's Y that releases more pollution than X, it's easy for X not to care about the impact of X, even if it all adds up in the end.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:41 PM on December 7, 2009


Suborbital is one thing. Orbital, quite another.

It's not even in the same ballpark. The delta-v for a LEO is about 32 times that of the suborbital 100km altitude. This doesn't include the issues with overcoming atmospheric drag and the increased structure size to contain all that fuel.
posted by autopilot at 1:44 PM on December 7, 2009


100 km apogee can be considered orbit if the space craft is capable of overcoming the lithospheric drag at perigee. An orbit that low would probably require more delta-v and thrust than going to a higher one, however.
posted by autopilot at 1:49 PM on December 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's funny that they have so many windows on the mothership.
posted by smackfu at 1:54 PM on December 7, 2009


100 km apogee can be considered orbit if the space craft is capable of overcoming the lithospheric drag at perigee. An orbit that low would probably require more delta-v and thrust than going to a higher one, however.

Well yeah. Duh.

Umm. Once again for the non-rocket scientists please.
posted by Babblesort at 1:54 PM on December 7, 2009


It's funny that they have so many windows on the mothership.

Yeah, who goes up on the mothership? It's not half the fun as the rider, right? What's with all the extra passenger space there?
posted by GuyZero at 1:56 PM on December 7, 2009


I'm not sure they've got it all figured out, but the extra seats on the mothership may simply be cheap seats into the upper atmosphere. At 60,000 feet, it goes a lot higher than an airliner and I'm sure they could fill some seats. Shit, maybe they'll equip it with private berths for a twelve-mile-high club. Also, I think some of the "windows" might just be painted on.
posted by exogenous at 2:04 PM on December 7, 2009


who goes up on the mothership?

That is reserved for George Clinton and his retinue.
posted by everichon at 2:04 PM on December 7, 2009 [17 favorites]


Well done! Scaled. I can't wait to see it fly.
posted by Long Way To Go at 2:09 PM on December 7, 2009


You know who else went sub-orbital on their second design?

I like the name, very catchy, maybe we'll call it the V-2 for short

[scowls and storms out of thread]
posted by CynicalKnight at 2:09 PM on December 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Are the odds of getting someone else's puke on you higher in zero-g? Something tells me there is going to be a lot of that.
posted by astrobiophysican at 2:09 PM on December 7, 2009


This animation from virgin galactic was released a while ago but it gives a good demonstration of what the trips will be like. I think the height they are aiming for is about 110km.

This thing could only be cooler if it was decked out in a space-lego colour scheme.
posted by memebake at 2:15 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The V2 was actually the Aggregate 4, V2 was just the marketing name. The V1 was a completely different technology, nothing to do with Von Braun, and used a pulsejet rather than a rocket.

/rocket pedantry
posted by Artw at 2:16 PM on December 7, 2009


100 km apogee can be considered orbit if the space craft is capable of overcoming the lithospheric drag at perigee. An orbit that low would probably require more delta-v and thrust than going to a higher one, however.
Well yeah. Duh.

Umm. Once again for the non-rocket scientists please.


Any orbit will do fine until the planet gets in your way.
posted by rlk at 2:17 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


lithospheric drag
They're planning to go through the Earth's crust?
posted by Electric Dragon at 2:18 PM on December 7, 2009


Umm. Once again for the non-rocket scientists please.

100km max height can be considered orbit if the space plane can maintain that height for some time. Doing so requires overcoming the drag from being in our atmosphere (note, I think "lithosphere" is incorrect*), so would require thrust and so more fuel overall than using the additional fuel to get into a higher orbit where, once in orbit, there would be less drag and so less fuel needed to maintain the orbit.

* IANARS
posted by zippy at 2:20 PM on December 7, 2009


overcoming the lithospheric drag at perigee

Ah sorry, now I understand. If you can auger through the earth on your way down, then you keep on going.
posted by zippy at 2:22 PM on December 7, 2009


Awesome.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:29 PM on December 7, 2009


Lithospheric drag is significantly harder to overcome than atmospheric drag. Orders of magnitude harder... Compare a TBM to a ICBM, for example.
posted by autopilot at 2:30 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Once again for the non-rocket scientists please

I wonder where the rocket scientist meme got all its traction. All of the science in rocket science was known before 1905 and everything else is merely an engineering problem. Not that rocket engineering isn't just as high a tech as any other, but it is not anything special or unique. When I am in a technical meeting and somebody goes "it isn't rocket science" I stifle a groan.
posted by bukvich at 2:34 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mostly intended it as a joke. What with it actually being rocket science this time.
posted by Babblesort at 2:36 PM on December 7, 2009


Congratulations Branson, you've designed a P-38 Lightning.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:40 PM on December 7, 2009


Well, it's not brain surgery.
posted by Artw at 2:40 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


100 km apogee can be considered orbit if the space craft is capable of overcoming the lithospheric drag at perigee. An orbit that low would probably require more delta-v and thrust than going to a higher one, however.

This would basically be Thunderbird 2 ejecting the Mole from the cargo pod mid-flight, yes?
posted by Artw at 2:42 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


As for the passengers on WN2 I think that part of the package you get as a SS2 passenger is a training /prep flight on WN2.
posted by localroger at 2:45 PM on December 7, 2009


I like this photo. There's something about the look in their eyes that just screams "Woo! Spaceship! Madness!"

Which is, of course, the appropriate response when unveiling your own, personal, working sub orbital space craft.

I mean, I had a similar look, and mine was just a couple of water heaters strapped to an old fridge with "Spaecship 1" hand painted on the side.
posted by quin at 2:54 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


3 Concords combined = one spaceship???
posted by DetonatedManiac at 3:00 PM on December 7, 2009


As for the passengers on WN2 I think that part of the package you get as a SS2 passenger is a training /prep flight on WN2.

Ah yes, I found this in one blurb about training that backs that up:

"We expect to use the WhiteKnight carrier aircraft which will feature a duplicate SpaceShipTwo cabin, as an integral part of the preparation experience."
posted by smackfu at 3:02 PM on December 7, 2009


What if they go too high, and they drift off into space?
Who's going to go catch them?
posted by Flashman at 3:04 PM on December 7, 2009


What if they go too high, and they drift off into space?
Who's going to go catch them?


Atmospheric beasts!
posted by Artw at 3:11 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder where the rocket scientist meme got all its traction. All of the science in rocket science was known before 1905 and everything else is merely an engineering problem. Not that rocket engineering isn't just as high a tech as any other, but it is not anything special or unique. When I am in a technical meeting and somebody goes "it isn't rocket science" I stifle a groan.

If it hasn't been done before it's still science. Perhaps applied science, but still science.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:17 PM on December 7, 2009


Metafilter: cheap seats into the upper atmosphere.
posted by CynicalKnight at 3:25 PM on December 7, 2009


Not that rocket engineering isn't just as high a tech as any other,

Yeah, but when it fails because someone did something wrong, it does so in such a spectacular fashion that is impossible to hide.

As an office guy, I screw up a report, and some numbers get confused in a meeting, whereas as a rocket scientist, I forget to account for some fuel/ thrust variable, and I'm raining down burning debris over half a state on national TV.
posted by quin at 3:28 PM on December 7, 2009


There was a period in American history when middle-aged funny-looking German immigrants were all the rage - von Braun and Einstein just got caught up in this huge wave.
posted by GuyZero at 3:31 PM on December 7, 2009


It's a SPACE CATAMARAN. I don't know whether it's hideous or beautiful yet, but if it fails, you can always stick a sail on top and enter it in a yacht race.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:45 PM on December 7, 2009


There was a period in American history when middle-aged funny-looking German immigrants were all the rage - von Braun and Einstein just got caught up in this huge wave.

Von Braun was actually quite young when he "emigrated" to the US: he had just turned 33.
posted by Sova at 3:45 PM on December 7, 2009


German men become middle-aged at 18.
posted by GuyZero at 3:59 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just like the fact that it looks like a spaceship. It was always a bit disappointing to me that the Saturn V rocket got progressively smaller throughout flight, ending up with this ridiculous little conical shell. Practical, yes, but not beautiful. Even the Shuttle, which at least seems to be trying, looks really ugly with its SRBs and fuel tank attached.

This, on the other hand...I know it's not that powerful, and can hardly take you up to your private space station where you can cackle and plot the destruction of all life (and what else are spacecraft for?), but it's sleek, shiny and gorgeous, and basically looks like it's fallen off the cover of a 1920s pulp novel. I want one.
posted by ZsigE at 3:59 PM on December 7, 2009


Just think how high we could go if we glued five planes together!
posted by designbot at 4:06 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like the name, very catchy, maybe we'll call it the V-2 for short.

In the event they ever do, it'll be a good thing Virgin went with numbers instead of letters.
posted by katillathehun at 4:10 PM on December 7, 2009


Daily flights?

No surprise. They have to accommodate swarms of recently-rich former-humans who, by this time, are ready to pay any price to feel something... anything...
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 4:23 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh and thanks for the post, there's nothing like the promise of consumer spaceflight to remind us we're LIVING IN THE AGE OF TOMORROW.

OH...oh..oh...
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 4:25 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Meh. I'll stick with my underground submarine base.
posted by brundlefly at 4:37 PM on December 7, 2009



Meh. I'll stick with my underground submarine base.

From which I will launch my robot squid that shoots these Virgin Galactic things from it's eyes.
posted by tkchrist at 4:42 PM on December 7, 2009


Then there's the 100km High Club.
posted by XMLicious at 4:44 PM on December 7, 2009


Suborbital is one thing. Orbital, quite another (et al).

There's orbit, and then there's space, which is what they speak of and achieve.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 5:07 PM on December 7, 2009


In other words, this thing won't help me if I need to nuke anything. Just to be sure.
posted by brundlefly at 5:20 PM on December 7, 2009


DIS AINT ROCKET SURGERY YOUS GUYS!
posted by fuq at 5:28 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


They have a video up now on the Virgin Galactic homepage.
posted by smackfu at 6:33 PM on December 7, 2009


I wonder where the rocket scientist meme got all its traction.

It's all the lithospheric drag.

--

Also the real problem with orbital flight is slowing back down at the end. Think of the heat shields on the space shuttle, for example. In theory, you need to use up as much energy slowing down as you used getting into orbit in the first place. Obviously, you can't just have a fuel tank for retro rockets.

Also, I wouldn't really call this a space ship. More like a sub orbital craft. It doesn't go anywhere other then straight up and then back down.

In my view, in order to qualify as a space ship it needs to carry space boats be able to go to other planets and then back again. Preferably multiple times. I would really like to see us create some Project Orion type nuclear powered space ships we could use to travel to other planets in the solar system. Because that would be totally awesome.
posted by delmoi at 6:39 PM on December 7, 2009


I wonder where the rocket scientist meme got all its traction. All of the science in rocket science was known before 1905 and everything else is merely an engineering problem.

My old boss used to say "Rocket Science is easy. It's Rocket Engineering that's the bugger". But then, I am an Aerospace Engineer, so there you go. :-)


Then there's the 100km High Club.

You're kidding, right? They're only weightless for a couple of minutes. I'd barely have time to take my hat off.*


* Assuming it hadn't floated off by that point.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 7:23 PM on December 7, 2009


I wonder how much of the transformative experience of seeing the pale blue dot from a distance that has been described by so many astronauts isn't also dependent on the rigorous study, training and teamwork that goes into that career path.
posted by Skwirl at 7:44 PM on December 7, 2009


I wonder how much of the transformative experience of seeing the pale blue dot from a distance that has been described by so many astronauts isn't also dependent on the rigorous study, training and teamwork that goes into that career path.

Good question. I did a post related to that awhile back. It seems some of their plans haven't materialized yet.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:20 PM on December 7, 2009


I wonder how much of the transformative experience of seeing the pale blue dot from a distance that has been described by so many astronauts isn't also dependent on the rigorous study, training and teamwork that goes into that career path

Even from the shuttle's much higher orbit, Earth dominates the view completely. The pale blue dot view is from the moon and fewer than 20 people have ever seen it.
posted by atrazine at 8:25 PM on December 7, 2009


I think Skwirl was confusing Sagan's famous "pale blue dot" with the experience many have even at low earth orbit of a kind of wholeness, citizen of the planet kind of thing. Even from the Moon, the Earth is a pretty big beach ball in the sky.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:49 PM on December 7, 2009


Obviously, you can't just have a fuel tank for retro rockets

AIUI, you can (I think this was one plan for how the SSTO that the DC-X was a test vehicle for was going to work).
posted by hattifattener at 11:01 PM on December 7, 2009


To be sure I was purposefully abusing the pale blue dot quote because the emotion of that quote is the same emotion of the Overview Effect -- our world is incredibly fragile, small and interdependent. Now I know there's a more precise term for that. Nifty.

There are certainly several paths of meditation that are, you know, 100% free and open to everyone and ultimately lead to similar feelings and insight. (No fooling! It's really good stuff.) Or if you want weightlessness, there's the vomit comet. Or if you want to see where the blue meets the horizon, you could build a sweet balloon.

I think it'll be great if any bazillionaires come back as yammering New Age envirohippies and maybe it'll plant some seeds but I'm not going to count on it.

I'm gonna assume that the barrel rolls in this animation are creative license (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IytjSl6voP0)... And would you really ride in a plane with 1337speak on the fuselage?

I should just shut up and just let the 11 year old in me think this is way awesome.
posted by Skwirl at 11:30 PM on December 7, 2009


Barrel rolls actually put very little stress on the airplane, so sure, why not.
posted by hattifattener at 11:44 PM on December 7, 2009


"Even from the shuttle's much higher orbit, Earth dominates the view completely. The pale blue dot view is from the moon and fewer than 20 people have ever seen it."

The pale blue dot is from way out at the edge of the solar system. It's a vantage point about 20,000 times further away than you say. Noone has ever seen it with their own eyes.

Unsurprisingly, the Earth viewed from the Moon is larger than the Moon viewed from the Earth. Same distance, bigger object. It's not a dot at all.
posted by edd at 4:49 AM on December 8, 2009


Want!
posted by Lynsey at 10:03 AM on December 8, 2009


"Spaceship 2 has a unique feathering configuration....that allows it to reenter the atmosphere in a carefree fashion"


The future is pretty cool.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:27 AM on December 8, 2009


I feel that this thread has neglected to point out that if something goes wrong with the flight (say the release mechanism fails because of a mysterious EM burst) then all those reporters on the ship will be trapped and there will be no one to save them when the orbital engine ignites and dragging the whole thing to its doom.

::cue heroic music::
posted by runcibleshaw at 12:39 PM on December 8, 2009


"Spaceship 2 has a unique feathering configuration....that allows it to reenter the atmosphere in a carefree fashion"

Ballistic reentry is no big deal. Reentry is only difficult because of the extraordinary amount of kinetic energy resulting from orbital velocity. No velocity, no problem.

Makes that statement disingenuous though, which is kind of interesting..
posted by Chuckles at 9:37 PM on December 8, 2009


Question for the rocket scientists... Could a modified SS2 be used as the second stage of a 3-stage LEO satellite launch platform?

SS2's payload is 6 passengers @100kg ea. It would probably be more as there would be no need for seats, airco, padded walls, vomit collection devices, windows and assocuated structural enhancements, and 6 fat cat CEOs weigh more than 600Kg! So lets say 1000kg. Launch cost is $1.2m, not including cost of the third stage, so so far we are at $1200/kg for the sat and it's third stage booster component... That seems quite cheap!
posted by nielm at 12:54 AM on December 9, 2009


Not really… most of the difficulty of getting to LEO is in the horizontal velocity, not the altitude. So in that 1200kg you need to fit not just your payload but also a motor that can accelerate the payload by 7000 m/s. For comparison, it looks like SS2's total delta-V is around 2000 m/s.

Obviously this can be done but I think you'd end up with a really tiny payload-to-LEO. The rocket equation is a bitch.
posted by hattifattener at 1:11 AM on December 9, 2009


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