Phase 2 – Space Vehicles and Other Methods to Get There

Space Shuttle Launch

Now that we have the money, we can start the rush to space. But how to get there? The space shuttle could be an answer. It has the great advantage over traditional rockets that it is reusable (except the external fuel tank that burns up in the atmosphere). But it is still very expensive: one launch costs over 500 million dollars. Moreover, it is rather unsafe as we can see after all the accidents and catastrophes that happened such as the Challenger shuttle which exploded a few seconds after launch. But fortunately, there is an alternative, a cheaper and safer way to get to space.

SpaceShipOne By D. Ramey Logan

Photograph by D. Ramey Logan. License: CC BY 4.0.

The solution is SpaceShipOne. It was developed by Scaled Composites, an aviation company, without government funding. It was first tested on June 21, 2004, thus making it the first privately funded human spaceflight. On October 4 of that same year, it was awarded the 10 million dollar Ansari X PRIZE. Instead of using rocket booster like the space shuttle it uses a… plane.

WhiteKnightOne By D. Ramey Logan

Photograph by D. Ramey Logan. License: CC BY 4.0.

It begins its flight docked to a specially designed plane called White Knight that will propel it high in the atmosphere. Then it is undocked and it powers its small rocket boosters and reaches an altitude of up to 120 km.

Recently Virgin Galactic, another aviation company, have commissioned Burt Rutan from Scaled Composites to design a newer, bigger and better version of his suborbital craft, called SpaceShipTwo. It will be an eight seater craft: 2 pilots and 6 passengers.

As this sort of technology makes progress in the future, the next step will most probably be to reach orbit.