Those of us who sail catamarans tend to hold a prejudicial belief that “two hulls (like two heads) are better than one”. Apparently, Burt Rutan and the Scaled Composites team think so as well.
But when Space Ship Two / White Knight Two made its debut appearance this week, there was something even more enticing about it. Like the wind driving Humanity’s future in space was about to shift. We began to see how the rest of us might tack our way into the black sky for more than just 6 or 7 minutes of floating fun.
And, for some of my aeronautically knowledgeable friends, it was deja vu all over again. Like: “where have we seen this before?” It was downright ghostly:
Take a look at this design – circa 1979 or so – from the Russian Myasishchev Design Bureau as modeled by aerospace scholar Alex Panchenko:
It’s an extreme makeover of the Russian Air Force’s 3M bomber (aka the “Bison”) which had been in service since 1955. [Anyone who knows more about this, please reply with comments: below.] The plan was to drop a rocket-boosted vehicle, “X-15 style”, in the upper atmosphere – at subsonic but significant velocity – which would then light its candle and transit out of the atmosphere. In other words, a Virgin Galactic lift ticket.
Branson with SpaceShipTwo / WhiteKnight Two
Hey, why not? NASA is reusing old Apollo technology for its Constellation project, why can’t Rutan “borrow” from a previous design. The Russians are proven aerospace engineers, the venerable Soyuz rockets are fifty years old and still going strong. If Rutan was given a deadline by Branson for a workable design within a couple of years, I’m sure Burt did alot of research. Branson didn’t become a billionaire by waiting around.