The Scaled Composites Model 339 SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is a suborbital, air-launched spaceplane, designed for space tourism. It is under development by The Spaceship Company, a California-based joint venture between Scaled Composites and the Virgin Group, as part of the Tier 1b program.
SpaceShipTwo is carried to its launch altitude by a mothership, the Scaled Composites White Knight Two, before being launched to fly on into the upper atmosphere, powered by a rocket motor. It then glides back to Earth and performs a conventional runway landing. The spaceship was officially unveiled to the public on Monday, 7 December 2009, at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The aircraft is currently undergoing flight-testing, having conducted 16 successful gliding flight tests as of October 2011.
The Virgin Galactic spaceline plans to operate a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes in a private passenger-carrying service, starting in 2013, and are already taking bookings, with a suborbital flight carrying a ticket price of US$200,000.
The Scaled Composites Model 348 White Knight Two (WK2) is a jet-powered cargo aircraft which will be used to launch the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. It is being developed by Scaled Composites as the first stage of Tier 1b, a two-stage to suborbital-space manned launch system. WK2 is based on the successful mothership to SpaceShipOne, White Knight, which itself is based on Proteus.
With an "open architecture" design and explicit plans for multi-purpose use, the aircraft could also operate as a zero-g aircraft for passenger training or microgravity science flights, handle missions in high-altitude testing more generally, or be used to launch payloads other than SpaceShipTwo. A study to look at using the aircraft as a forest fire water bomber has also been mentioned, one that would utilize a large carbon composite water tank that could be quickly replenished to make repeat runs over fires.
Virgin Galactic has ordered two White Knight Twos. Together WK2 and SS2 form the basis for Virgin Galactic's fleet of suborbital spaceplanes.
As of November 2010, The Spaceship Company has announced that it plans to build at least three additional WhiteKnightTwo aircraft and an additional five SpaceShipTwo rocket planes. These are the aircraft to be built after the initial prototypes of each craft are built by Scaled Composites.
The first White Knight Two is named VMS Eve after Richard Branson's mother; it was officially unveiled on July 28, 2008, and flew for the first time on December 21, 2008. The second is expected to be named VMS Spirit of Steve Fossett after Branson's close friend Steve Fossett, who died in an aircraft accident in 2007.
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