burt rutan

Aviation week article – Person of the year: The Space Entrepreneur

By Frank Morring, Jr.

Working quietly in the background since the days of viewgraphs, a group of space entrepreneurs has long been pitching far-fetched ideas to skeptical moneymen with the fervor of evangelists. Now their viewgraphs—updated to Powerpoint and CAD/CAM—are becoming reality, and metal and fire are streaking through the upper atmosphere into low Earth orbit.

Collectively, they are in the vanguard of a new industry, poised to transform how humans venture into space in ways that most observers can scarcely imagine today. Space entrepreneurs had a big influence on aerospace in 2009, although it does not begin to compare with the impact they are likely to have in years to come.

That is why Aviation Week chose this intrepid group of engineers and visionaries as the 2009 Person of the Year.

Two developments have set the stage for space entrepreneurs to begin breaking down barriers, financially and otherwise. After investing more than $1 billion in hard-won private capital on hardware, they are finding increased acceptance for their business plans. And they have finally made it to space with humans onboard—three suborbital flights with SpaceShipOne that won Scaled Composites the Ansari X-Prize and launched a fledgling commercial space-tourism business.

Traditionally reluctant to rely on government backing, these brash businessmen now find themselves at the center of the debate on how government astronauts will get to space; the very governments they have often disdained are potentially their biggest customers. NASA already has multi-billion-dollar contracts with two of them to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and is spending big bucks to encourage them to develop more capability.

In the U.S., where almost all of the space entrepreneurs operate, the federal government may wind up relying on them to transport astronauts to the ISS. And, building on the success of the X-Prize Foundation in spurring development of a privately financed human spaceship, NASA and Congress are using a federal prize program to tap into the skills of the growing entrepreneur community.

As Burt Rutan at Scaled Composites was putting the finishing touches on SpaceShipTwo, the commercial version of the vehicle that won the privately backed $10-million X-Prize, another Mojave, Calif.-based company was winning big, too. Masten Space Systems pulled in more than $1 million in federal Centennial Challenge prizes for building a lunar-lander prototype and proving it on a simulated moonscape.

Mojave is a hotbed of the space-entrepreneurial spirit, and Dave Masten—featured on the cover with his prize-winning rocket-powered Xoie lander—epitomizes that zeal. Like some other space entrepreneurs, Masten got his start in information technology, but winning the Centennial Challenge lunar lander prizes make it less likely the longtime rocket buff will ever have to go back to Silicon Valley.

Click here for the full article.

Document provided by  Virgin Galactic


The History: The Ansari X Prize

  • Objective: to provide the catalyst for private sector innovation in the field of manned space exploration
  • Rules: private funding, design and manufacture of a vehicle capable of delivering the weight of 3 people including one actual person to sub-orbital space defined as an altitude of at least 100kms. The vehicle had to be 80% reusable and fly twice within a two week period
  • Winner: Mojave Aerospace Ventures a Paul G Allen company with Burt Rutan and SpaceShipOne on October 4th 2004. Pilot Brian Binnie (see www.scaled.com)

The History: SpaceShipOne

  • Project funded by Paul Allen – co founder of Microsoft; at an cost of approx $26m
  • Designed and built by Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites in Mojave CA
  • Flew to space 3 times in 2004
  • The world’s first private manned space vehicle
  • Now displayed in the Milestones of Flight Gallery at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, DC between Charles Lindbergh’s  Spirit of St Louis and Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1

The Technology

  • A completely new approach to space access for people, science and payload
  • Air (horizontal) launch from the “WhiteKnight” purpose built aircraft not ground (vertical) launch – intrinsically safer and more environmentally friendly
  • All carbon composite construction (light, strong, resilient and fuel efficient)
  • Hybrid rocket motor uses benign fuel and oxidizer (same rubber and nitrous oxide used for SpaceShipOne) and is controllable – can be shut down at any time during boost phase of flight
  • Re-entry controlled aerodynamically by unique wing feathering design – heat free and carefree
  • Un-powered (glide) runway landing

Virgin’s Involvement

  • Seeking investment opportunities since late 90’s when Galactic name was registered
  • Knew of Burt Rutan’s credentials through sponsorship of the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer – world’s most fuel efficient powered aircraft
  • Agreed with Burt Rutan and Paul Allen to invest in development and construction of second generation vehicle for commercial venture – the world’s first commercial spaceline
  • Intending to order 5 SpaceShipTwo’s and 3 WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft to be manufactured by The SpaceShip Company (TSC) (a Joint Venture between Scaled Composites and Virgin)
  • Mission to create environmentally benign, safe and commercially viable access to space for people, science and potential for payload.  Space tourism early adopters provided vital proof of first available market and made project possible.


  • SpaceShipTwo unveiled on 7th December 2009 immediately prior to start of its test flight program
  • Uses all the same basic technology, construction and design as SpaceShipOne prototype
  • Is around twice as large as SS1 and will carry 6 passengers and 2 pilots
  • Cabin approx the size of a Falcon 900 exec jet
  • Whole fuselage used for passenger cabin – no raised “floor”
  • Large windows positioned throughout the cabin to afford maximum viewing potential for passengers
  • Planning for reclining seats to maximize cabin space in zero g and for re-entry
  • Dimensions:  Wing span: 42ft.  Length: 60 ft.  Tail height: 18 ft (Feather down)
  • Cabin details:    6 passenger seats.  90” diameter x 12 ft long
  • Construction:  100% carbon composite
  • Propulsion: hybrid rocket motor uses benign fuel and oxidizer (the same means of propulsion as SpaceShipOne) and is controllable – can be shut down at any time during boost phase of flight
  • Power: after release from carrier aircraft, operates on internal power supply
  • Feathering wings for re-entry: same technology as SS1; improved aerodynamics
  • Flight simulator operational and already being used as pilot training and design refinement tool

Carrier Aircraft/Mothership (WhiteKnightTwo) Technical Specification

  • Status: first flight 21st December 2008. Test flight program substantially complete with a total of 22 successful flights including high altitude and long duration
  • Largest 100% carbon composite plane in service (Boeing 787 Dreamliner uses composite materials for about 50% of its primary structure)
  • Twin boom / fuselage construction
  • Propulsion & Power: 4 X Pratt & Whitney PW308 engines. Member of PW300 series engines
  • Dimensions: Wing span: 140ft (only 16 ft less than Boeing 767-300).  Length: 78 ft.  Tail height: 25ft
  • Performance: SS2 ferry range: U.S. coast to coast
  • Capability:  A training vehicle for SS2 spaceflight – can simulate SpaceShipTwo g force profile.  Both fuselages replicate SS2 and right hand cabin interior will also be identical allowing for passenger training.  Unique high altitude lift aircraft potentially suitable for various payloads

SpaceShipTwo Flight Profile

  • G-Forces:  max gx (front to back): 6g.  max gz (head to toe): 3.8g
  • SS2 release: 50,000 ft
  • Planned apogee of spaceflight: at least 110 km
  • Zero-g phase –out of seat
  • Total flight time:  all told approximately 2.0 hrs


  • WhiteKnightTwo commenced test program during the summer of 2008 with first flight 21 December 2008. Test program continued through 2009 and was substantially completed by the end of the year
  • Spaceship Two roll-out December 7th 2009. Test flight program will commence early 2010
  • Test flight period envisaged 18 – 24 months or longer if safety dictates.  Building of first commercial vehicles will commence whilst test program is underway
  • Safety first, we are not in a race, we will launch only when we are content that it is safe to do so
  • We aim to fly 500 people in the first year and 50,000 in the first 10 years, subject to our first obtaining all necessary regulatory approvals
  • First commercial flights are planned to operate from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

SpaceShipTwo Flight Stats

  • Total flight time around 2.0 hours
  • G forces: rocket boost max 3.8 g (x and z); re-entry max 6 g (x only whilst reclined)
  • Speed: supersonic within 8 seconds of rocket ignition and faster than Mach 3 within 30 seconds of rocket ignition
  • Achieving an apogee of at least 110 kms

The Experience

  • Plan for 3 days of preparation, medical checks, bonding, and g force acclimatization as part of flight cost
  • Carrier aircraft is able to act as a training platform with passenger cabins that replicate the spaceship
  • All passengers will be able to leave their seats and float in zero G should they wish and enjoy view of space and the earth stretching for around 1000 miles in every direction


  • Accepted Deposits from over 300 individuals who have made deposits from between $20 and $200k
  • Total deposits received over $40m.  Flight cost US$200k
  • Over 85,000 people from 125 countries have registered their interest in becoming a Virgin Galactic astronaut at www.virgingalactic.com
  • A specialist network of Virgin Galactic Accredited Space Agents has been set up around the world to accept deposits for seats on future space flights (ASA details can be found on www.virgingalactic.com).


  • US regulatory framework established by 2004 Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act which empowered the Office of Commercial Space Transportation within the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate and license commercial space launch vehicles and operators.
  • Enshrined the principle of Informed Consent for space flight participants, permitting a licensed operator to carry passengers on space flights once the passengers are informed of and accept a comprehensive explanation of the risks involved.
  • Company also is committed to complying with other U.S governmental regulations, including export provisions administered by the State Department

Environmental Credentials

  • Air launch means short rocket burn
  • Reusable spaceship – no space debris
  • The carrier aircraft uses latest highly efficient turbo fan jet engines
  • SpaceShipTwo re-entry and landing are unpowered
  • CO2 emissions per passenger on a spaceflight will be equivalent to approximately 60% of a per passenger return commercial London/New York flight.  Around 70% of the spaceflight CO2 emissions come from the carrier aircraft. This is a clean spaceship!
  • SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft will provide space access, to paying tourism passengers and to scientists for research, with an incomparably smaller environmental impact, lower cost and greater flexibility than anything that has gone before. We need space but we need better access to it.


  • Pics from our friend, Sam Coniglio whose probably going to provide the bulk of the New Space community with first pics.
  • Twitpic feed courtesy  of Jeff Foust from The Space Review and The New Space Journal.
  • NPR

Articles, blogs, and twitter coverage

Jonathan Amos reporting for the BBC.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Virgin Galactic Unveils Spaceshiptwo, The World’S First Commercial Manned Spaceship

SpaceShip2- Unveils in Mojave,CA

Source: Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo (SS2) and its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) herald a new era in commercial space flight with daily space tourism flights set to commence from Spaceport America in New Mexico after test program and all required US government licensing completed.

Mojave Air and Spaceport, California
December 7, 2009

Virgin Founder, Sir Richard Branson and SpaceshipOne (SS1) designer, Burt Rutan, today reveal SS2 to the public for the first time since construction of the world’s first manned commercial spaceship began in 2007. SS2 has been designed to take many thousands of private astronauts into space after test programming and all required U.S. government licensing has been completed.

The unveiling represents another major milestone in Virgin Galactic’s quest to develop the World’s first commercial space line providing private sector access to space using an environmentally benign launch system for people, payload and science. The spaceship draws on the experience developed during the successful flights of SS1 in 2004, which won the Ansari X-Prize for completing the world’s first manned private space flights. The SS2 design will be refined and completed during an extensive test flying program to commence shortly, and it will be an entirely new vehicle capable of carrying up to 6 passenger astronauts and up to 2 pilot astronauts into space on a sub-orbital flight.

The unveil itself will take place at Mojave Air and Spaceport as darkness falls on the famous aviation and spaceflight location. Subject to certain U.S. regulatory requirements that will guide the unveiling, SS2 will be attached to her WK2 mothership which was last year unveiled and named EVE after Sir Richard Branson’s mother. In the future, WK2 will carry SS2 to above 50,000 feet (16 kilometres) before the spaceship is dropped and fires her rocket motor to launch into space from that altitude. In honour of a long tradition of using the word Enterprise in the naming of Royal Navy, US Navy, NASA vehicles and even science fiction spacecraft, Governor Schwarzenegger of California and Governor Richardson of New Mexico will today christen SS2 with the name Virgin Space Ship (VSS) ENTERPRISE. This represents not only an acknowledgement to that name’s honorable past but also looks to the future of the role of private enterprise in the development of the exploration, industrialisation and human habitation of space.

The emergence of new commercial space companies like Virgin Galactic will be an engine for employment, growth and the creation of a new technology and science base in the United States. Recent research has indicated that 12,500 jobs have already been created by the new space companies; the Virgin Galactic project alone is creating significant opportunities for employment in both the company itself and with suppliers in both California and New Mexico. Approximately 600 people are now working on activities relating to the project and it is estimated that this figure will rise to over 1,100 jobs during the peak of the construction phase at the space port and through the introduction of the commercial space vehicles into regular astronaut service.

Both WK2 and SS2 represent state of the art environmentally sensitive industrial development in their use of carbon composite materials technology, which has now been identified as a key future contributor to the increasingly urgent requirement by the commercial aviation sector for dramatically more fuel efficient aircraft. WK2 is powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A engines, which are amongst the most powerful. economic and efficient commercial jet engines available making it a mould breaker in carbon efficiency. SS2 will be powered by a unique hybrid rocket motor, which is currently under development.

The twin fuselage and central payload area configuration allow for easy access to WK2 and to the spaceship for passengers and crew; the design also aids operational efficiencies and turnaround times. The mothership has now also completed a year of rigorous and successful first phase flight testing prior to today’s attachment of SS2.

Commenting on the unveiling, Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic said: “This is truly a momentous day. The team has created not only a world first but also a work of art. The unveil of SS2 takes the Virgin Galactic vision to the next level and continues to provide tangible evidence that this ambitious project is not only moving rapidly, but also making tremendous progress towards our goal of safe commercial operation”.

Burt Rutan, Founder of Scaled Composites added: “All of us at Scaled are tremendously excited by the capabilities of both the mothership and SS2. Today is the culmination of a dream that began many decades ago, was stimulated by Paul Allen’s funding of our X-Prize winning SS1 and then moved forward to commercial reality by Sir Richard and Virgin’s visionary investment in a new future for space transportation”.

SpaceShipTwo will be unveiled after darkness has fallen over the Mojave Desert to the sound of a space-themed anthem from Britain’s biggest DJs, Above & Beyond. Fittingly titled “Buzz” the track will sample Buzz Aldrin’s original moon landing dialogue. Following the naming by Governors Richardson and Schwarzenegger, the DJs will also perform an exclusive set at the celebration cocktail party which will follow and feature the first ever IceBar in the desert hosted by Absolut and the world famous Swedish IceHotel. All the guests will be protected from the desert cold by designer space jackets supplied by PUMA. Finally, to close off the celebrations, all the guests will have the opportunity to view the stunning night skies using specialist telescopes supplied by Ron Dantowitz of the Clay Observatory whose unique tracking cameras followed SS1 into space during the epic flights of 2004.

For further information go to www.virgingalactic.com

For downloadable images and graphics go to: www.virgingalactic.com/SS2Unveil

Source: Popular Mechanics

New Area 51: Mojave’s Desert Outpost Holds Spaceflight’s Future

By Joe Pappalardo

Two technicians in coveralls stoop to push a gleaming white plane through open hangar doors into the bright sunshine of southern California’s Mojave Desert. The tailless aircraft is about 18 ft. long with a rounded fuselage and sweptback wings, tips bent upward in pronounced winglets. A pair of canards stretches 13 ft. across the cone-shaped nose. A two-seat cockpit is slung beneath gullwing doors that look like they belong on a ’54 Benz coupe. Basically, the aircraft is a rocket with wings.

The techs remove the cowling that covers the plane’s engine, exposing slender helium tanks and intricate connections of frosted liquid oxygen fuel lines. Two engineers in jeans and sneakers emerge from the hangar. Brandon Woodworth, 26, clipboard in hand, begins a brisk 100-item-plus diagnostic rundown.

“Check switch number nine to check thermocouples on the LOX tank,” Woodworth says. “Any gripes?”

In tandem, the techs answer “no”—the temperature sensors on the liquid oxygen tank are functioning.

Woodworth nods. “Check switch number 10.”

And so it goes through six pages of procedures. Then the crew tests the igniter, which emits a throaty burp, calibrates the fuel flows and tops off the tank with liquid oxygen cooled to minus 297 F. White mist curls from the nozzle as the gas boils off in the hot sun.

Meanwhile, an interloper on a Harley-Davidson pulls up on the road that parallels the chain-link fence along the airport perimeter.

Standing on tiptoe, he holds a digital camera above the fence and begins squeezing off shots of the exotic rocket plane 15 yards away. The crew ignores him. “He probably couldn’t recognize anything proprietary even if he could get a picture of it,” says Reuben Garcia, 34, crew chief and composite materials ace.

The shooter stows the camera, mounts his Harley and roars off. Whether tourist or aviation paparazzi, he has come to the right place to capture images from the cutting edge of aerospace. The city of Mojave—a low-rise community of 3800 people, 100 miles north of Los Angeles—doesn’t look like much. The dusty main drag has two traffic lights, a cluster of fast-food franchises and one decent roadhouse, Mike’s, where a mix of miners, bikers and pilots drink, shoot pool and watch motor sports on ESPN. The desert winds blow tirelessly.
Click here for full article.

Source: Air & Space Smithsonian

By Michael Belfiore

In the old days it was straightforward enough. The planet had two corps of astronauts, Soviet and U.S., and to join one, you had to be a military test pilot. But now the rules have changed. You don’t have to be an American or a Russian anymore, and you don’t even have to be a government employee.

In 2004, Burt Rutan and his small company in Mojave, California, Scaled Composites, broke the government monopoly on human spaceflight. The company built SpaceShipOne using the same carbon fiber molding techniques used by airplane homebuilders everywhere, at the ridiculously paltry cost of $25 million. At the controls on its first flight into space sat not a steely-eyed missile man forged in the cold war but a 63-year-old high school dropout from South Africa. “I’m just a guy,” Mike Melvill exulted after SpaceShipOne’s inaugural flight into space. “An old guy!” The implication was inescapable. If he could drive a spaceship, so could anyone.

Of course, Melvill wasn’t just any guy. He had spent the previous 25 years studying at the school of experience, flying one quirky experimental airplane after another. During his tenure with Scaled and its predecessor company, Melvill had made the first flights in nine other airplanes, among them the California Microwave, a reconnaissance aircraft designed to fly equally well with a pilot or without; and a self-powered sailplane called the Solitaire, with a propeller and engine that could retract into the fuselage to reduce drag.

Read the full article here.

Thank you to  Scott Farr for the pics below. He  had to battle 3 hours of traffic to get into the airshow at Edwards AFB earlier today . Thank you Scott!

WhiteKnight 2 with B1 Bomber at Edwards AFB Flight Test Nation 2009

WhiteKnight 2 with B2 Bomber at Edwards AFB Flight Test Nation 2009

WhiteKnight 2 static display at Edwards AFB Flight Test Nation 2009

WhiteKnight 2 static display at Edwards AFB Flight Test Nation 2009


Parabolic Arc points out this funny but telling piece on Rutan at a recent speech at a university in Turkey.  I recall seeing Rutan speak at UCLA to a group of engineers.  He more or less had the same advice then and referred to his employees at Scaled Composites as having skills that go beyond the classroom.  I recall his saying that if he had two applicants, one with straight A’s from UCLA who didn’t have any hands on skills and the other who was a high school dropout who loved to work on engines in his parents’ garage…well, you can guess whom he would hire.  For those of you who doubt his words, you might consider the lack of formal training two guys named Wilbur and Orville had.  Way to go, Burt.