How SpaceShipTwo Will Work

Technical Specifications for SpaceShipTwo

SpaceShipTwo will be 60 feet (18.3 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet (8.2 meters) and a tail height of 15 feet (4.6 meters). It's about twice the size of SpaceShipOne [source: Virgin Galactic]. The passenger compartment will contain six seats and will be 12 feet (3.7 meters) long and 90 inches (228.6 centimeters) wide [source: Virgin Galactic]. Virgin Galactic plans to make the cabin area as comfortable as possible. It will be pressurized, allowing the passengers to breathe normally without masks or pressure suits (known as a "short-sleeve environment"). Windows in the passenger compartment will be 13 inches (33 centimeters) wide by 17 inches (43 centimeters) tall. The pilots' windows will be 21 inches (53.3 centimeters) wide.

The exact lifting capacity of the carrier craft hasn't been revealed, but it will be greater than the weight of SpaceShipTwo. This means that it could have the capability to carry larger vehicles or unmanned satellite launching rockets for high-altitude launches.

Carbon fiber panels sandwiched around a honeycomb core will give SpaceShipTwo remarkable strength for its weight. Power is provided by a hybrid rocket based on the rocket used in SpaceShipOne. A hybrid rocket burns solid fuel (in the case of SpaceShipOne, a synthetic rubber) with the aid of a liquid accelerant, in this case nitrous oxide. The liquid is stored under pressure, so no fuel pumps are needed. Overall, hybrid rocket systems are considered among the safest types of rockets. They can be throttled down or shut off by cutting the supply of liquid oxidant.

Few details of SpaceShipTwo's systems have been released, but it's assumed they'll be similar to those used by SpaceShipOne. There will be no autopilot or computer control -- the pilots will directly control everything through mechanical and electric-assist controls. Thrusters in the nose are used to alter pitch and yaw when outside the atmosphere, and the wing pivots are pneumatically powered. Navigation is handled by a GPS-enabled LCD screen that displays SpaceShipTwo in relation to a simulated globe [source: American Aerospace Online].

Specifications for the craft's fuel are unknown. However, Richard Branson is dedicated to green technology and claims SpaceShipTwo will generate about as much pollution as a business-class flight in a conventional airplane [source:].

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