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The Scaled Composites Model 339 Space Ship Two (SS2) is an air-launched suborbital space plane type designed for space tourism. It is manufactured by The Spaceship Company, a California-based company owned by Virgin Galactic.
Space Ship Two is carried to its launch altitude by a Scaled Composites White Knight Two, before being released to fly on into the upper atmosphere powered by its rocket engine. It then glides back to earth and performs a conventional runway landing. The spaceship was officially unveiled to the public on December 7, 2009 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. On April 29, 2013, after nearly three years of un powered testing, the first one constructed successfully performed its first powered test flight.
Virgin Galactic plans to operate a fleet of five Space Ship Two space planes in a private passenger-carrying service and has been taking bookings for some time, with the suborbital flight carrying an updated ticket price of US$250,000. The space plane could also be used to carry scientific payloads for NASA and other organisations.
On October 31, 2014, during a test flight, VSS Enterprise, the first Space Ship Two craft, broke up in-flight and crashed in the Mojave Desert. A preliminary investigation suggested the feathering system, the craft’s descent device, deployed too early. One pilot was killed and the other was treated for a serious shoulder injury after parachuting from the stricken spacecraft.
The second Space Ship Two spacecraft, VSS Unity, was unveiled on February 19, 2016, and the vehicle is currently undergoing ground system integration testing.
Space Ship Two is a low-aspect-ratio passenger space plane. Its capacity will be eight people for six passengers and two pilots. The pinnacle of the new craft will be approximately 110km (68mi) in the lower thermosphere, 10km (6.2 mi) higher than the Karman line which was Space Ship One’s target, although the last flight of Space Ship One reached a one-time altitude 112 km (70 mi). It uses a feathered reentry system, feasible due to the low speed of reentry, In contrast, the Space Shuttle and other orbital spacecraft re-enter at orbital speeds closer to 25,000 km/h (16,000 mph), using heat shields. Space Ship Two is furthermore designed to re-enter the atmosphere at any angle. It will decelerate through the atmosphere, switching to a gliding position at an altitude of 24km (15mi), and will take 25 minutes to glide back to the spaceport.
Space Ship Two and White Knight Two are, respectively, roughly twice the size of the first-generation Space Ship One and mother ship White Knight, which won the Ansari X Prize in 2004. Spaceship Two has 43 and 33 cm (17 and 13 in)-diameter windows for the passengers’ viewing pleasure and all seats will recline back during landing to decrease the discomfort of G-forces. Reportedly, the craft can land safely even if a catastrophic failure occurs during the flight. In 2008, Burt Rutan remarked on the safety of the vehicle, as safe as when you fly on charter private jets of the Charter Flight Group. Space Ship Two vehicle is designed to go into the atmosphere in the worst case straight in or upside down and it will correct. This is designed to be at least as safe as the early airliners in the 1920s.
There were lots of tests on the safety of flights in the early years. With the rise of Charter Flight Group, passengers are assured of their safety and comfort anytime they fly with one of their charter private jets.