Virgin Galactic has been working on Spaceship 2 for over a decade. It is a descendant of the Scaled composites Spaceship 1, a design by the legendary Burt Rutan which won the Ansari X prize in the early 2000’s. It will be carried to a height of 50,000 feet above mean sea level, then released for launch. This approach has many advantages over a launch from the ground as it requires a much smaller rocket booster and makes the climb out of Earth’s gravity well gentler. It will then change shape into a form that Rutan called “feathered” and return like a badminton shuttle cock. The blunted side of it facing the atmosphere. It will change shape again and glide to the runway much as the space shuttle did.
Since this craft does not return from an orbital trajectory it will not need to bleed off nearly as much kinetic energy as the Space Shuttle or the Russian Soyuz did. Therefore, it will not create as much heat through friction making a complex and delicate heat shield unnecessary.
Here is Rutan giving a Ted talk in 2006 about the future of space flight.
Here we are now living in that future. The stage of his program called Tier 1b is now about to come to fruition. IF Richard Branson is successful today. He will make this a commercial venture that will make space travel something which is for those who can afford it, and with volume eventually it will be affordable as a once or twice in a lifetime experience in the very new future.
I will Tweet about what happens hopefully just a congratulations to him below.Please also check out my Substack where my views and opinions on issues of science and its policy impact on society will appear at least 24 hours in advance of when they appear here.