Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Sometime about 1999 I started paying attention to what was going on in reusable launch vehicles instead of the expendable rockets that have been used since the 1950s. I was interested in the X-prize and the various competitors for it. Bert Rutan's Scaled Composites was one of the few companies that was actually building hardware, and I saw them take an early lead, and eventually with the prize with the combination of WhiteKnight One and Spaceship One. I also noticed that they had contracted with Virgin Galactic to design a larger version that would actually take paying passengers into suborbital flight. I also noted the White Knight Two and Space Ship Two were scheduled to be unveiled today, so I was watching for it, and a first look is now available.
It's less of a ride than a trip on the ISS; only suborbital, but at a tenth the price ($200, 000 for a Virgin Galactic flight), so it's within range of a lot more people: There is a waiting list of prepaid customers. The word is that the White Knight carrier craft is about 80% built, and flight tests set to begin later this year. The SpaceShip Two craft is supposed to begin drop tests, but there's a bit of a delay on developing the rocket engines due an accident at Scaled Composites last year.
Scaled Composites has contracted to build several more vehicles.
This is how it ought to be done. Design the vehicles, build them, fly them, test them, and repeat. In the meantime, run a profitable enterprise. The more you do this, the more experience you get, and the next cycle of development is cheaper and more profitable. You build a market and the infrastructure to support it. I'm watching for more developments in this field: Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic aren't the only players: they are, at present, the pioneers.

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