This lucky bastard got to be the first journalist inside SpaceShipTwo, now under construction by Scaled Composites under contract with Virgin Galactic in Mojave. Play the video above to see the BBC’s Richard Scott giving a tour.
What’s striking is how simple a machine the spaceship appears to be: just a carbon fiber tube with a rocket engine in one end, control systems at the front, and those famous “feathering” wings of Burt Rutan’s design.
It’s the feather, the hinging tail booms, that make such simplicity possible. Instead of requiring complicated fly-by-wire electronics, computer controlled actuators, heavy heat shielding, and the like to return to Earth safely, the ship returns to atmospheric flight gently slowed on upward-hinged wings. Once below supersonic speed, the pilot lowers the wings, then glides back to the originating airport unpowered, using stick-and-rudder controls that have change little since the days of the barnstormers.
In this video you can see the drum-like frames on which the six passenger seats will be mounted. The seats will automatically recline at the top of the craft’s parabolic flight path to release the passengers and let them float about the cabin. Presumably by then there will be a barrier between the free-floating passengers and the pilots, who will at that moment be engaged in reorienting the craft properly for reentry and who won’t be amused by having to swat wayward arms and legs out of the way.