back to article SpaceShipTwo ready to slip the surly bonds of Earth for Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is set to unveil its new space plane on Friday, 16 months after the last one crashed in the Mojave Desert. "Very soon, Virgin Galactic will introduce our new spaceship to our customers, our partners, and the world," the company said in a statement. "As we celebrate the end of one critical phase of work, we …

  1. x 7

    what actual use is it?

    just what technological use is there for this?

    its not as if it opens a cheap route to satellite launch

    1. Lysenko

      what technological use is there for this?

      It is designed to enhance overall investment in the tech sector by diverting cash from sports cars, handbags and shoe manufacturers.

      Virgin Galactic might come up with something valuable to humanity as a spin off from this project. Louis Vuitton never will.

      1. graeme leggett

        Re: what technological use is there for this?

        Or it could be a self aggrandizement project so that Branson can add another all-weather infinity pool to his volcano hideaway on his personal island in the Caribbean.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: what technological use is there for this?

        "Virgin Galactic might come up with something valuable to humanity as a spin off from this project. Louis Vuitton never will"

        A whole generation of "chav handbags" and suitcases say's you are wrong

        It's the greatest gift to Humanity in Essex

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What use?

      You might as well ask what use is a profound piece of art. Some things aren't meant to have an obvious practical use, but exist to move and inspire people.

      SpaceShipTwo is such an endeavour. Maybe one day some of the technology involved might be used to launch satellites (they have such plans), and certainly a stripped-out SS2 could be used as a microgravity research platform, but I don't think that's why they're doing it.

      Just read this:

      "Many [astronauts] experienced something called the Overview Effect as they look back at our home world. Seeing the Earth from space, they notice that most of the borders we fight over are imaginary lines, or that our atmosphere seems like an impossibly thin and fragile layer of protection for life as we know it. The experience is a profound and fundamentally personal one, but its magnitude cannot be denied."

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: What use?

        "Just read this:

        Although I agree it might be nice to have a big bunch of ultra-rich vulture capitalists get a new and maybe better perspective of Earth and it's inhabitants, I'm not sure they will be going high enough or for long enough to get anything other than bragging rights.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      "what actual use is it?"



    4. Ilmarinen

      what actual use is it?

      None at all.

      But it is a beautiful thing.

      Paid for by people's own money.

      And I guess that you are not a flyer, diver, poet, artist or Sci-Fi fan ?

  2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    I'd book a flight if I had the cash.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They've improved safety, so 'chocks away'

    They've put a big sticker on the handbrake which says 'HANDBRAKE!' in biG red letters.

  4. GBE

    Slip the surly bonds? Nonsense!

    I hate to be pendantic (a phrase that almost always means the exact opposite of what it says), but a simple sub-orbital ballistic shot up to 100km or so isn't anywhere close to "slipping the surly bonds of Earth".

    Yes, I know it's far from "simple", but it's also far from escaping anything. I'll allow a bit of poetic license and OK the use of "slip the surly bonds of Earth" for things that stay in orbit for a while -- even though they may be almost as far from escape velocity as SpaceShip Two.

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Slip the surly bonds? Nonsense!

      While we're at it "As a thousand-year-old saying goes, there is no easy way from the Earth to the stars. But finally, there is a way, and through steady testing, we will find it."

      There has always been a way, and it's been resources, experienced pilots, planning and attention to detail.

      Per ardua ad astra

      1. x 7

        Re: Slip the surly bonds? Nonsense!

        "There has always been a way, and it's been resources, experienced pilots, planning and attention to detail."

        so in other words, not Virgin Galactic

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Slip the surly bonds? Nonsense!

      While you might be right in your belief, that line comes from a poem... High Flight written in 1941 by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. Thus, it pre-dates space-flight...

      "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

      And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

      Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

      of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things

      You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung

      High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

      I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

      My eager craft through footless halls of air....

      Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

      I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.

      Where never lark, or even eagle flew —

      And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod

      The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

      - Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."

    3. pewpie

      Re: Slip the surly bonds? Nonsense!

      Let's face it.. The damn thing barely qualifies as spaceflight.. but shhh.. the hype train doesn't like it when the fact monster comes to town. They have to sell those twat-priced tickets, remember?

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Slip the surly bonds? Nonsense!

        It was good enough for Alan Shepard and the whole of the USA in 1961.

        Slipping the surly bonds of earth refers to ordinary flying using forward thrust and aerofoils.

      2. JayB

        Re: Slip the surly bonds? Nonsense!

        "Let's face it.. The damn thing barely qualifies as spaceflight.. but shhh.. the hype train doesn't like it when the fact monster comes to town. They have to sell those twat-priced tickets, remember?"

        Seriously? This is your considered response to someone developing a reusable platform for getting people into "legally defined" space (ok, we're not escaping gravity and winging into the cosmos but still). I kinda feel sorry for you, what happened to ambition, admiration and sheer appreciation for how wonderfully mental we can be as a species?

        This is an impressive piece of engineering regardless of how you cut it, yeah, ok, so no mere financial mortal like me will ever get a ride in it, but maybe, just maybe if we can get some of the clueless dolts who can afford it to realise it's a round world we live on then maybe something morally lovely will happen.

        If not, then something fantastic STILL happens in Engineering/Science/Technology. We learn something, we build something shiny, we watch it fly and someone, somewhere thinks "how can I make that better?". That alone makes this worthwhile.

        Alien.. because.. dudes... Stars!!!!

  5. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Redefining Space

    SS2 is likely only going to get to 50 miles of altitude, the old demarcation line of space. The dismal performance of the hybrid motor and added weight of additional components to get the motor to function (while eliminating 2 passenger seats) means that 100km (63 miles) isn't in the cards. There isn't the budget to redesign the craft.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Redefining Space

      SS2 is a development of the technology proven in SpaceShipOne. SS1 reached 112km altitude with a much wimpier hybrid engine back in 2004.

      The published plans are for SS2 to reach over 110km

      You know what? I really don't think that the engineers working on the project have mucked up their modelling so badly that the projected flight plans won't materialize in practice. Unless, of course, you have calculations which show different?

      I know that I don't know the mass of SS2 (either empty or at full load), the drag of SS2 (taking into account altitude and speed), the performance of the rocket motor (specific impulse with respect to (wrt) altitude and speed, thrust wrt altitude and speed, solid fuel load, oxidiser load, burn rate wrt to thrust, and so on and so forth). Even if I did know all the essential data, I still wouldn't be able to do the modelling needed. How about you?

  6. Esme

    Fun, poetry, and stuff...

    It's purpose was to enable the development of White Knight Two, which, as all fule kno, is the perfect launch platform for LOHAN 2! If we all just chip in a quid to the launch costs, that should cover it.

    Thanks for posting 'High Flight', Mark 85. It's easily my favourite poem, and deserves being introduced to as wide an audience as possible.

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Note however that it *can* be tested in pieces and stages, like an aircraft

    Not like an all-or-nothing ELV

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actually, not a lot like a vomit comet trip

    The article states:

    "Virgin Galactic wants to charge people $250,000 per trip, and the passengers will only experience a few minutes of weightlessness before falling back to earth. You can experience the same effect for $5,000 using commercial vomit comet services that use airplanes flying in steep descent."

    This misunderstands the difference between the two services - which is plainly substantial, or no-one would be paying 50 times as much for a seat on a Virgin Galactic suborbital hop.

    A "vomit comet" trip involves a repeated pattern of climb and dive to give periods of (typically) 25s apparent weightlessness followed by perhaps twice that time pulling close to 2g, the cabin rotating in pitch all the time.

    This all happens well inside the atmosphere at ordinary aircraft heights, in an aircraft cabin without much in the way of windows: you experience flight noise, no view, and the process often causes nausea.

    Apparently, "one third [become] violently ill, the next third moderately ill, and the final third not at all." Vomiting is referred to as "ill"

    What Virgin Galactic will offer is very different and akin to Alan Shepard's trip as the first American in space (Mercury-Redstone 3/Freedom 7) - but with much better facilities.

    Rather than what is effectively an extreme rollercoaster ride if you take a vomit comet trip, Branson's lot are offering - according to his blurb - an experience including:

    "Having just experienced a thrilling, dynamic rocket ride, the dramatic transition to silence and to true weightlessness will be a profound moment for our astronauts as they coast upwards towards space."

    It's certainly true that going into space is a profound experience for almost all who have done it.

    What you'll get from Virgin Galactic is a jet flight up to about 50,000 feet (15,000m) with the space ship slung beneath a conventional jet aircraft, followed by release and a rocket powered supersonic flight (pulling perhaps 3.8g) out of the atmosphere into space, reaching about 110km (361,000 ft), with view ports through which the passengers can see the blackness of space, the curvature of Earth, and a view for maybe a thousand miles around.

    Once the engine's cut, Branson's ride will offer several minutes (not a fraction of a minute) of free fall during which passengers will be able to float around and enjoy the view. Most people experiencing zero g in this sort of way don't get sick.

  9. GitMeMyShootinIrons

    To the negative comments...

    Commercial passenger space flight has to start somewhere, if only to develop the technology and evolve passenger confidence. What Virgin are doing is no different to the first fare paying aircraft passengers in the late 1900s/1910s - a quick spin around an airfield. It's not big, but it's a beginning.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: To the negative comments...

      "Commercial passenger space flight has to start somewhere, "

      Exactly. Although not directly compatible, the first air passenger flights were short trips around a field by the early pioneers and showmen. And look where we are now. We even used to have a supersonic passenger aircraft once upon a time,

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: To the negative comments...

      Except we already have ways of getting to orbit which this can't.

      It's like promoting a step ladder as an aircraft - because it allows you to leave the ground.

      1. annodomini2

        Re: To the negative comments...

        And commercial paying passengers have gone up for 10x the cost of an SS2 ride, for those that want to and can afford the high cost, it was the same with early air travel.

        But 99.9% of people in the world cannot afford this.

        This brings it down to about 99%, small gap some would say, but that .9% covers a much larger volume of potential paying customers.

        With the commercial opportunity comes profit and potentially investment.

        It took ~60years to go from the first aircraft flight to scenarios where 50-60% of the world populous could afford to fly.

        The technical challenges of reducing the cost of space access are that much greater due to pushing the boundaries of our technology. Getting into space is an expensive and risky business.

        As happened with air travel a technological revolution will be required (jet engine), until that happens, not much will change.

        1. x 7

          Re: To the negative comments...

          " to scenarios where 50-60% of the world populous could afford to fly."

          do you want to do that calculation again, this time taking in account India, China, Brazil and black Africa?

          more like 5-6%

  10. Ali Um Bongo

    Yes, It's Exciting And All That

    But I can't help thinking of Richard Branson as that creepy kid at school nobody really liked, but kind of tolerated because he was well-off and always brought the best toys and sweets in.

    1. x 7

      Re: Yes, It's Exciting And All That

      I can't forgive Branson for fucking up the West Coast Main Line with those bloody daft cramped vomit inducing smelly sweaty too small Pendolinos. Bring back the space of a MkIII coach - and the better smoother ride

      1. CliveS

        Re: Yes, It's Exciting And All That

        The problem with the WCML is that it has too many curves for conventional high speed trains. The maximum speed of Mk III rolling stock on that route is limited to 80mph as a result, even with super-elevation on some curves. That 80mph limit also contributes to the relative smoothness, being only 2/3 of the maximum speed of the Pendolinos.

        The alternative is to have rolling stock that tilts (as per the original APT and its technological descendant, the Pendolino). But in the UK we have a restricted loading gauge, so if the rolling stock has to tilt then it needs to taper towards the roofline to stay within gauge. And the result is the cramped feeling to the coaches. Having seats which don't align to the windows doesn't help either.

        (Icon for the parka with a fur trimmed hood and a copy of Locoshed in the pocket)

        1. x 7

          Re: Yes, It's Exciting And All That

          " The maximum speed of Mk III rolling stock on that route is limited to 80mph as a result"

          total bollox

          for much of it the limit was 110 - thats why they upped the speed limit on the Class 87's and 90's.

          Now the Pendolinos with their tilty crap max out at 125. Just what was the point?

          1. CliveS

            Re: Yes, It's Exciting And All That

            "total bollox"

            Yup, you're right. It is the Mk3 sleepers limited to 80mph (in operation as the Caledonian Sleeper), not the standard Mk3 rolling stock. And the 125mph speed limit is a consequence of the block signalling. Iirc 140mph would require 5 aspect rather than 4 aspect signals (or in cab signalling) though BR intended for the APT-P to run at up to 155mph.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Yes, It's Exciting And All That

      Book tip: "Limit"* by Frank Schätzing** features a protagonist based more than loosely on Branson. Got rich in the media business, now operates the world's first space elevator and has just buildt a hotel on the moon. Pretty good sci-fi themed political thriller, AFAIKT the science bits are researched quite well, so no 'Duh' moments.

      *yes, there is an english version

      **yes, the guy who dreamt up the Yrr

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Yes, It's Exciting And All That

        For a space elevator, you sure need a stonking big media business. Would playing world porn king for 200 years bring in enough cash?

        (Btw, do space elevators do need boosts whenever they lift something or is the angular momentum directly coming from the rotating Earth?)

  11. We're all in it together

    It's been done before

    I seem to recall an orange three finned rocket with the number 3 on the side which docked with a circular space station with a 5 on the side. And you got to blast off from a rather nice island.

    1. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: It's been done before

      But that was during the peak of 1960s technology.

      We've lost a lot of brains since then.

    2. x 7

      Re: It's been done before

      "I seem to recall an orange three finned rocket with the number 3 on the side"

      SIngle Stage to Orbit, controlled reusable recovery, and powered by particle acclerators. Now THATS technology

  12. smartypants

    So excited!

    "there is no easy way from the Earth to the stars. But finally, there is a way, and through steady testing, we will find it"


    Oh hang on... It doesn't even make sense.

    What is this 'way' to the stars they've finally found, yet not found?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: So excited!


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So excited!


        I'm a developer working on a government portal (website thingy) and so far I haven't reached the stars or even the moon, although I have met a lot of lunatics.

      2. D@v3

        Re: Portals?

        Science isn't about *why* - it's about *why not*. *Why* is so much of our science dangerous?

        Why not *marry* safe science if you love it so much?

        In fact, why not invent a special safety door that won't hit you in the butt on the way out, because *you are fired!*

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I really struggle to see why RB is pursuing this project. He's sinking a ton of money into something that meets the arbitrary and fairly pointless target of getting to 100km up. I'm sure his marketing droids will be able to convince a fair few people with more money than sense to take a ride but surely that wouldn't be anywhere near enough to cover the development and running costs. I'd much rather see him invest his money in Reaction Engines.

    1. Zack Mollusc

      Pretty sure that RB will be raking in a ton of money from this project whilst others are sinking their money into it.

  14. Allan George Dyer Silver badge


    As in "bad-tempered and unfriendly"? Poetry lesson notwithstanding (thanks, Mark 85), it's space that is unfriendly and inhospitable - instantly changing from dark, icy cold and blindingly bright and baking hot. Earth is comfortable, maternal, but it's time to start taking baby-steps in the wider universe.

  15. Grease Monkey

    It's been built purely to exploit an arguably innaccurate definition. Most people would argue that you are only an astronaut if you have been in orbit. As such, while passengers in this craft may get the right to call themselves astronauts all they will be doing is devaluing the title of astronaut.

    After all Donald Trump has the right to officially call himself a human being, but we all know he isn't.

    1. MondoMan

      So soon they forget!

      The first two Mercury flights (on Redstone rather than Atlas boosters) were suborbital, but nevertheless qualified Shepard and Grissom as true astronauts.

      As for your example, I tend to think of the Donald as a "Trumpus" -- derivation from Krampus or rumpus or both, your choice.

  16. pop_corn

    It's one small step /cliché

    The only endeavour worth a damn is to work out how mankind can sustainably leave this insignificant floating rock, before we either consume all the resources required for us to do so or we all die from some disaster (man made or otherwise).

    As such, I'll take any and all space based progress you can give me. Well done RB, you're reminding people what we're really here for: the exploration and colonisation of space. :)

  17. Mr Dogshit

    Trade Descriptions Act

    How do they get away with calling this thing a "space ship"?

    Hey, beardy! The USS Enterprise is a space ship. Blake's 7's Liberator is a space ship.

    Some shitty aeroplane which goes slightly higher than other aeroplanes isn't.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Trade Descriptions Act

      Umm... The Kármán line, above which SS2 is designed to travel, is by definition the limit beyond which it's impossible for anything to fly aerodynamically. Practically speaking, no aeroplane can fly remotely near that altitude.

      That's why anything which gets above that altitude counts as a space ship not an aeroplane.

      The highest sustained flight altitude measured to date is 25,929 m (SR-71): not one quarter of what SS1 has already managed.

      On the way up, SS2 (and its predecessor SS1) gets all its lift from its rocket motor and it flies into space that way.

      It's a space ship all right - one which goes up using a rocket engine, gets into space, and glides back down again like the Space Shuttle.

      Yes I know it can't get in to orbit and even if it could it wouldn't survive re-entry, but SS2 is a lot more than just an aeroplane: it's a space-going supersonic rocketplane.

      As for the USS Enterprise and the Liberator: ah yes, PROPER space ships, ships built in space to carry people through space without landing (although the Liberator might have been able to and yeah okay it was built by aliens not humans). If that's the only sort of thing you think counts as a space ship, well: humanity ain't got anything like them, not yet. Give it a thousand years or so, and who knows? NASA is actually funding warp drive research (ISTR it's one bloke in a lab, trying to create a microscopic space warp - sounds mad, is based on sound physics, certainly won't come up with anything directly useful, might lead to research which develops something useful in the far distant future).

      Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey is another proper (fictional) space ship and a much more practical proposition; the human race might see something like that inside a century (hopefully with a computer that hasn't been driven insane). Current engineering is up to the job, but it would take an awful lot of money.

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