SpaceShipThree poised to follow if SS2 succeeds

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Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites to develop orbital version of tourist spacecraft

Orbital vehicle SpaceShipThree (SS3) will be developed by space tourism company Virgin Galactic and Mojave-based SpaceShipTwo (SS2)-developer Scaled Composites, if the planned SS2 suborbitalservice is successful, says Virgin Galactic president Will White­horn.

SpaceShipThree is planned for Scaled’s tier 2 manned space programme, while the nine-person SpaceShipTwo is part of the current tier 1b programme.

The suborbital three-crew SpaceShipOne (SS1), which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize last October, was developed within Scaled Composites’ tier 1 programme.

“If the SpaceShipTwo service is successful we will develop SpaceShipThree, which is orbital,” says Whitehorn.

Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan spoke about a orbital version of SS1 at a UK Royal Aeronautical Society lecture in London last year (Flight International, 17-23 August 2004).

Scaled Composites was not available for comment about SS3.

Meanwhile, Whitehorn says his company was given approval earlier this month by the US government for technology transfer for SS2 from Scaled Composites.

Under US export rules the country’s companies and individuals cannot provide information on certain technologies to non-US organisations and foreign citizens. The technologies used by SS1, such as its hybrid rocket engine, are covered by this law.

With the transfer approval Virgin Galactic can now activate its intellectual property licence with Paul Allen’s company Mojave Aerospace Ventures. The company owns the technology rights for SS1 systems that will be used for SS2.

Virgin Galactic began its export application earlier this year after becoming a registered US company in the third quarter of 2004.

The company needs the technology transfer to enable it to buy five nine-seater SS2 vehicles and two White Knight 2 (WK2) carrier aircraft it will get from the UK’s Virgin Group and Scaled Composites joint venture The Spaceship Company.

The Spaceship Company will also need technology transfer approval to work with Scaled Composites. Whitehorn expects the new spacecraft manufacturer to become a legal US company later this year.

The prototype SS2 and WK2 vehicles will be built at Scaled Composites. The production SS2s and WK2s will be built at The Spaceship Company’s factory, which is expected to be based at Scaled Composites.

ROB COPPINGER/LONDON