The 21st century version of a joy flight, image by Virgin Galactic
The 21st century version of a joy flight, image by Virgin Galactic

What comes after the A380s and Dreamliners have gone to the aircraft graveyards of the Mojave Desert, and the last of the subsonic long haul jets have shut down their engines?

Richard Branson (owner) and Burt Rutan (designer) and their rocket ship combo, Virgin Galactic image
Richard Branson (owner) and Burt Rutan (designer) and their rocket ship combo.

Whatever it is, it will have a lineage that can be traced to something that appeared this week in the same desert, when Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two made its party debut slung below the wide wings of its lifter ship, WhiteKnight Two.

SpaceShip Two in the drop and ignite position, image by Virgin Galactic
SpaceShip Two in the drop and ignite position, image by Virgin Galactic

As mentioned in an earlier post, rocket rides are to the future of space transport what joy flights early last century were to air transport.

They are not, to borrow from the title of HG Wells famous sci-fi book of 1933, the exact shape of things to come, but a portent. There will be sub orbital space transports to cross the oceans and continents, and there will be industrial devices, exploiting microgravity in orbit, or at the Lagrange locations, to make things, discover things, and perhaps even deflect dangerous earth crossing asteroids.

The first YouTube video is a hangar walkaround of the Spaceship Two and WhiteKnight Two assembly before the party at which Richard Branson and the rocket ship designer Burt Rutan unveiled the duo, after which a wind storm gate crashed the proceedings.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERDXOyJyugU[/youtube]

The second video is an animation of how the Virgin Galactic flights to more than 100 kilometres above the earth will work. The animations are somewhat comical and the backing music tinny, but it does show the sequence of events that await those flying a fleet of six Spaceship Two’s on a thrill ride to space and back.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioiFWuROVsg&NR=1[/youtube]

Only one really big question remains unanswered. Will a Virgin Galactic flight generate Velocity frequent flyer points?