Branson Bash to Celebrate Debut of SpaceShipTwo

The world's first manned commercial spaceship sets to debut under the evening desert skies of the Mojave desert with all pomp and circumstances -- not to mention vodka -- that Sir Richard Branson can muster. SpaceShipTwo could be in service by 2011, carrying wealthy passengers on a brief trip into space.

Shortly after darkness falls on the Mojave Desert Dec. 7, the world's first manned commercial spaceship will make its public debut with all the usual unbridled restraint of Sir Richard Branson, the money behind Virgin Galactic and the SpaceShipTwo.
"This is truly a momentous day. The team has created not only a world first but also a work of art," Branson said in a statement. "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."
The goal of Virgin Galactic is to provide a commercial space service that takes paying customers into space. Projected to clear U.S. regulations within a year, Virgin Galactic could be up and running by 2011. According to a number of reports, Branson has already signed up a number of customers for a trip to space at $200,000 a pop. SS2 is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots.
The spacecraft will use a mothership to carry it above 50,000 feet before the SS2 is dropped and fires her rocket motor to launch into space from that altitude. The mothership is powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A engines, while the SS2 will be powered by a unique hybrid rocket motor, which is currently under development.
But first the all important debut ceremony: SS2 will be unveiled 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. The DJs will also perform an exclusive set at the obligatory celebration cocktail party, which will 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.
The ceremonies will also feature California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who plan to christen SS2 with the name Virgin Space Ship (VSS) Enterprise.
Finally, to close out the celebrations, all the guests will have the opportunity to view the desert night skies using specialist telescopes supplied by the Clay Observatory, whose unique tracking cameras followed SS1 into space during the epic flights of 2004.
The SS2/Enterprise 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.
According to Virgin Galactic, both the mothership 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.
Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, designer of SS2, said, "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."