Extending the reach of his ambitious Virgin Galactic venture, businessman Richard Branson has this week whipped the covers off the eagerly anticipated SpaceShipTwo, which is expected to become the world’s first commercial spacecraft.
The unveiling ceremony was held at the futuristic New Mexico Spaceport, which will serve as a hub for Virgin Galactic’s fleet of spacecraft, and was attended by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
Despite the vehicle looking somewhat unruly and being lumbered with a distinctly unimaginative name, Virgin Atlantic president Will Whitehorn has confirmed that SpaceShipTwo will in fact enter service as the V. S. S. Enterprise (Virgin Space Ship Enterprise).
“It was the name of the first space shuttle, and it has dominated science fiction as a kind of watchword for human spaceflight in the future,” outlined Whitehorn in a statement.
The new name, which was apparently chosen by Branson’s daughter Holly, is considered more befitting of the craft given the maritime history and tradition associated with ships bearing the same name.
When officially ready to carry commercial passengers, the Enterprise will be carried to an altitude of 50,000 feet slung centrally beneath the wing of its twin-fuselage EVE mothership, at which point it will propel its two pilots and six paying passengers on a tantalising sub-orbital journey.
Although the Enterprise (one of a planned five Virgin Galactic space vehicles) now faces many months of ground and flight tests to determine its safety levels, space tourists with suitably deep pockets are expecting to head for the stars some time during 2011.