The crowds are long gone from California's Mojave Airport and Burt Rutan's team is back at work on a new flying machine.OK, so it will have taken 65 years, not 15. I will never go to the moon. But maybe Andrew will, even if it's when he reaches retirement age.
Like SpaceShipOne, the homebuilt rocketship that claimed a £5.2m cash prize for twice reaching suborbital space, Rutan's next creation will travel beyond Earth's atmosphere as well.
SpaceShipTwo (SS2), however, will have more than a single occupant.
Rutan is toying with designs to accommodate up to eight passengers at a time, with enough upgrades to warrant a ticket in the £104,000 ($200,000) price range.
"I think anyone who had the chance to go would want to go," said Trevor Beattie, a British advertising personality, who already has booked a flight.
Rutan, who has been averaging better than one new aircraft design every year for the past three decades, says he is finished with airplanes for a while.
The mission now for his Mojave-based company, Scaled Composites, is to create 3,000 new astronauts a year - per departure point, Rutan adds, and per ship.
"Mojave is not going to be the only place in the world where there will be a place to buy tickets and fly a spaceflight," Rutan said.
The partnership that built SpaceShipOne, Mojave Aerospace Ventures, has its first paying customer: Sir Richard Branson.
The backbone of the Branson venture, called Virgin Galactic, will be five vehicles based on SS2. Each will be capable of flying at least five and more likely around eight people at one time.
SpaceShipTwo will not look anything like its predecessor. For one thing, Rutan must fix a stability problem caused by SpaceShipOne's high upswept wings.
For another, Rutan and Branson plan a ship of luxury, with service and amenities that at least match Virgin Atlantic's upper-class travel service. And that, as any airline flier knows, starts with leg room.
Rutan said SpaceShipTwo would have about the same diameter crew cabin as a Gulfstream V business jet, which measures slightly more than 6ft in height and 7ft in width (1.9m by 2.2m).
The best part of all, Rutan added, was that 15 years from now, "every kid who dreams, 'Wouldn't it be cool to fly in space?' will know that in your lifetime, you are going to go to orbit.
"You will know that, not just dream that. That is the neatest thing about the whole programme."
Thursday, 30 December 2004
Via Samizdata, from the BBC :