White Knight 2 carries the new spacecraft in the middle.
Monday saw the debut of the successor to Spaceship One, which was the first civilian spacecraft to reach suborbital space and return the astronaut safely to Earth, repeating the event within 2 days. SpaceShip 2 was presented to the public at SpacePort America, under construction in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This tourism space project is the brainchild of Burt Rutan, the genius aircraft designer who invented many advanced concepts for private and commercial aviation. The project is funded by Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic airlines and Virgin music stores. The company created to run this project is called Virgin Galactic.
SS2 secured in the middle launch position.
SpaceShip 2 has been named VSS Enterprise (I wonder why that name?...). It will carry six paying passengers on a sub-orbital ride into space to experience weightlessness and a superior view of our planet Earth, before returning through the Earth's atmosphere. Passengers supposedly are paying up to $200,000 per ticket and there is already quite a list. Test flights could begin any day now, and paying public flights are scheduled to start no earlier than 2011.
This is the real deal. For the price of the ticket, anyone will be able to go into space. Once this project is running well and additional spacecraft are added to the fleet, it's expected that Virgin Galactic will work on developing Orbital flight operations.
The pictures I've included are by Jeff Foust, who runs the websites NewSpace Journal (http://www.personalspaceflight.info/) and Space Politics (http://www.spacepolitics.com/).