Many of the news reports about the SS2/WK2 design unveiling cover just the basics, repeating a lot of information that was already known about the effort. There are a few nuggets tucked away in the articles, though:
- Perhaps the biggest questions are when SS2 will fly, and what the status of investigation into the July accident at Mojave Airport is. MSNBC’s Alan Boyle devotes a post to those questions, but finds no firm answers. Burt Rutan told MSNBC that the exact cause of the July accident is still unknown, and that has obviously delayed work on SS2′s propulsion system. Virgin is also sticking to its belief of not stating a specific schedule for flights, with company president Will Whitehorn telling the New York Times, “We don’t want to make promises that we can’t meet. We’re in a race with nobody, apart from a race with safety.”
- The Wall Street Journal [subscription required] plays up one aspect of the WK2 design that had been previously hinted at: its use as a platform for launch small satellites into orbit. The specifics of such a launch system, including the type of rocket that would be used and the cost, aren’t mentioned. The WSJ article states, “Known as an ardent environmentalist, the British billionaire apparently was attracted to the notion that an alternative satellite-launch system would produce less pollution that today’s massive liquid-fueled or solid-fueled rockets.” Pollution, though, is not a major concern for satellite launches, and also depends on the type of propellant used.
- Scaled hopes to build 40 SS2 and 15 WK2 vehicles over the next ten years, according to SPACE.com; the current contract with Virgin calls for five SS2 and two WK2 vehicles. Also: SS2 will feature large (45-centimeter) windows for passengers to look out at the Earth.
- The current economic turmoil hasn’t affected sales, Reuters reports. Whitehorn said Virgin just had its best month of sales: “Clearly a lot of people want to get away from Planet Earth at the moment.”
- There are other design tweaks and features that Scaled is not disclosing for the time being to avoid tipping off any competitors. Rutan: “There are unique, new ideas scattered throughout the spaceship.”
- Virgin has put 80 of its customers through a high-G centrifuge test and only two could not take the G-forces. Among those who passed included James Lovelock, the scientist of “Gaia” fame, who is 88 years old.