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Image: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, First Commercial Spacecraft, Unveiled In CA

Science News

The making of SpaceShipTwo

Click through scenes from the construction of Virgin Galactic's suborbital passenger spaceship.

First Feather Flight (FF01) of SpaceShipTwo

Birds of a feather...

SpaceShipTwo in full feather wing mode on a rapid descent from its drop altitude of 51,500 feet over Mojave,Calif., on Wednesday May 4, 2011. The feathered wing is at its full 65 degree angle and remained at this angle for 1 minute and 15 seconds. The craft descended in this configuration at a near vertical angle at a rate of 15,500 feet per minute. The craft was reconfigured to normal glide mode at 33,500 feet. All objectives of the flight were met. The flight duration of SpaceShipTwo following release was approximatel 11 minutes and 5 seconds. This photograph was taken with high powered telescopes from the ground.

Mark Greenberg / Ron Dantowitz-Clay Center Observ

Golden Gate ... to space?

A new Virgin America A320 jet, aptly named "My Other Ride Is a Spaceship," flies in tandem with the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane and its mothership over the Golden Gate Bridge on April 6. The aircraft landed at San Francisco International Airport, becoming the first planes to arrive at the new $388 million, 640,000-square-foot Terminal 2. SpaceShipTwo is expected to begin rocket-powered suborbital test flights sometime in the next year - not from San Francisco, but from the Mojave Air and Space Port near Los Angeles.

Mark Greenberg
Image: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, First Commercial Spacecraft, Unveiled In CA

Ready for testing

Onlookers inspect the back end of the mated WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo planes at the Mojave Air and Space Port during the rocket plane's Dec. 7 unveiling. The eight-person SpaceShipTwo, which was christened the VSS Enterprise, is the first of a series of space planes due to start commercial service in the 2011-2012 time frame. Tests of the rocket plane were to begin within days of the unveiling.

David Mcnew / Getty Images North America
Image: Debut of SpaceShipTwo

Spaceship's debut

Illuminated by colored lights, the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane is attached to its WhiteKnightTwo mothership during its rollout on Dec. 7 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

Anrew Gombert / EPA
The Virgin Galactic WhiteKnight2 mothership \"Eve\" makes its first public debut at the world's largest airshow at Oshkosh, Wisconisin Monday July 27,2009. WhiteKnight2 is the largest all composite aircraft ever built and will be the aircraft that ferries the first commercial SpaceShip2 aloft for passenger flight to space.Richard Branson prepares for flight inside the cockpit while Scaled Composites engineer Bob Morgan preps Richard along with WK2 pilot Pete Siebold.

Welcome aboard

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson prepares for flight inside the mothership Eve's cockpit at the EAA AirVenture air show in Wisconsin on July 27, 2009. The airplane's pilot, Pete Siebold, and Scaled Composites engineer Bob Morgan help with the preparations.

Photographer:mark Greenberg / Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic
VMS Eve Mountains

First step to space

The WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane known as Eve flies over mountains during a test flight from its home base at California's Mojave Air and Space Port. Eve is to serve as the mothership for Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. SpaceShipTwo's test flights are due to begin in 2010.

Robert Scherer
Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Cabin Goes On Show

Riding the wave

Virgin Group employees sit in the cabin of a prototype Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo spacecraft at London's Science Museum in February 2007. SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots to the edge of outer space for a few minutes of weightlessness and an out-of-this-world view. The fare is $200,000 per passenger.

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images Europe

A ride for the boss

Virgin Galactic's billionaire founder, Richard Branson, flashes a grin as he stands in front on VMS Eve, the WhiteKnightTwo airplane that will eventually carry SpaceShipTwo to its air launch. Branson took his first flight on Eve in July 2009 at the EAA AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wis. The plane is named after Branson's mother, who inspired the painting on the fuselage.

Photographer:mark Greenberg

Window seats

Windows dot the interior of the SpaceShipTwo passenger cabin, as seen during an early stage of the rocket plane's construction. The design is aimed at making sure each of the six passengers has a view of the curving Earth and the black sky of space from a height of 62 miles (100 kilometers).

Rocket Motor test for SpaceShip2 complete success

Fire away!

The full-scale rocket motor to be used in SpaceShipTwo is successfully test-fired on May 6, 2009, at the Northrop Grumman test facility in San Clemente, Calif. The hybrid rocket motor was built by Scaled Composites and SpaceDev.

Mark Greenberg
SpaceShipTwo Construction 1 Description: Scaled Composites, Mojave.

The making of SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane is the result of a years-long development effort, following up on the successful suborbital spaceflights of SpaceShipOne in 2004. In this photo, SpaceShipTwo's passenger cabin is being placed on the fuselage inside Scaled Composites' hangar in Mojave, Calif.