Virgin Galactic is gearing up to take more tourists to the edge of space by working with Boeing to develop two new “motherships” that will carry rocket-powered spaceplanes to launch altitude. It’s all part of a plan to fly 400 flights a year, every day and maybe twice on Sundays.
V.G.’s approach, performed several times with test crews and founder Richard Branson himself on boardthe spacecraft is strapped to the belly of the larger custom aircraft, giving the first takeoff run and eliminating the need for rocket boost through the densest part of the atmosphere.
While the VMS Eve is certainly an interesting aircraft involved in a decidedly futuristic endeavor, namely space tourism, it has been in service since 2008. Although its limited flights had little effect on its service life, the intervening years have seen numerous improvements. and efficiencies that can be built into subsequent ships, and it’s time to build them in preparation for commercial operations.
To that end, VG has turned to Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary initially focused on advanced autonomous aircraft, to build two such production models by 2025. similar ships, but the company has probably integrated more than just Boeing DNA. since acquisition in 2017.
These new units are an “evolution, not a redesign” of the Eve, a VG spokesperson said, and will not carry a new designation (the Eve is technically a WhiteKnightTwo model, an evolution White Knight One developed by Bert Rutan a few years earlier).
This explains why the computer rendering of the new ship is structurally identical to the old one, though it’s not clear why it looks like they drew it in SketchUp:
In a press release, CEO Michael Colglazier said the new aircraft will be “faster to manufacture, easier to maintain and will allow us to
carry out significantly more missions annually.” This echoes the improvements being made to the spacecraft that VG President Mike Moses described last year as being more focused on smoothing business operations than improving performance or “fixing” anything.
Although I asked, it remains unclear what designation the new aircraft will have – it seems to have not been decided yet and will be known only when the ships themselves roll out. It’s not necessarily important, but it’s useful to know if it’s going to be something like WhiteKnightTwo.One or WhiteKnightThree. Probably neither.
The goal of these production models is to achieve the goal of 400 flights per year, a goal that is not achievable with a test fleet. Thousands of places a year means prices are falling, although it will likely be some time before ordinary people can go into space instead of renting a cabin for the weekend.
To be clear, this is all completely different from Virgin Orbit’s aircraft and air-launch system, which is similar in principle but of a completely different company and purpose, using a modified 747 to accelerate an orbital launch vehicle.
Credit: techcrunch.com /