Virgin Galactic Cabin Reveal

At 18:00 British Summer Time, 28th July 2020, Virgin Galactic revealed the appearance of the cabin interior of their space tourism vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, for the first time.

The video presentation began with a recording of Professor Stephen Hawking, reminding us that “the history of human endeavour has been a history of exploration”, accompanied by some magnificent views of the Earth from space. This was followed by a “drop shot” of SpaceShipTwo from her mother ship, WhiteKnightTwo, followed by the spaceplane firing her rocket motor and climbing for space.

We were then welcomed from Spaceport America in New Mexico by Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, who told us that he had joined the company a week ago, after thirty years with the Walt Disney Company. He spoke of the fantastic customer experience awaiting passengers on SpaceShipTwo, and said that this was a very significant moment for himself, as the start of his career with virgin Galactic, for the team at the company, and for Sir Richard Branson, who he then introduced.

Sir Richard thanked the audience for joining the event, and said that “although the event might be virtual, it’s significance (was) very real”, as this is a cabin designed to allow the public to experience spaceflight. He said that SpaceShipTwo was the first space vehicle to be “built from the inside out”, a description that, whilst benefiting from poetic licence, had much of truth in it, for Virgin Galactic, said Sir Richard, had started with a vision of “the optimal customer experience” and built the ship around it.

Virgin Galactic Spaceship Seats Rotated Back In Space

Sir Richard then handed over to George Whitesides, Chief Space Officer of Virgin Galactic, at Spaceport America, who spoke of the “proof of concept” flights of a little over a year ago, during which their Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses, won her FAA astronaut wings. He then introduced Beth, who spoke of the cabin facility testing that she did during those flights.

Beth introduced herself, and said that she had been the first person to fly in the passenger cabin of SpaceShipTwo, and had tested ways to get in and out of the seats, methods to improve the “seat interfaces”, aids to movement about the cabin, and “how the cabin moves about you” when passengers float in it in microgravity. These experiences have enabled Beth to give feedback for the cabin design, and to configure her training program accordingly.

Beth said that the moment when, strapped into her seat, she felt the wheels of the mothership begin to roll, was an intensely significant one for her. She went on to say that the rocket motor, producing under 3g acceleration, was not especially loud, and that the ascent phase was “the rocket ride of your life”. She joined the pilots at the cockpit for the peak of the ballistic trajectory, and said that this was “the standout moment of my life”.

George Whitesides then returned to speak of his excitement at revealing the cabin design, designed with the view of the Earth from space in mind, and introduced some of the designers, who said that Sir Richard had always understood, from the beginning of the Virgin brand, the power of design for “positive disruption”, and that their first move had been to listen to what potential customers wanted from a rocket ride, such as weightlessness, the view of the Earth from space, and receiving their astronaut wings.

Virgin Galactic Halo Lighting

Jeremy Brown, Virgin Galactic Design Director, said that the seating was “an iconic feature” of the cabin, and that each suit had been tailored to fit each individual astronaut (one presumes that this is not in the same way as the contour couches of the first astronauts were made to fit their occupants, but by adjusting sections of the seat; in the opinion of this correspondent, the appearance of the seats bears this out). They had, said Jeremy, used “the finest aluminium, (and) carbon fibre manufacturing techniques” and had cantilevered the seats from the cabin sides. This is in contrast to the usual airliner practice of securing the seats to seat tracks on the floor, which allows freight pallets to be “swapped in” for seats; however, as was revealed later, science payloads may be fitted to the attach positions on the walls, for use in research flights. The seat reclines when the passenger leaves their seat in space to maximise usable cabin volume, a position in which it remains for re-entry, thus providing support against acceleration in an appropriate direction for each phase of the flight. The seat backs feature digital displays for flight information. Under Armour, the manufacturers of the Virgin Galactic flight suits, provided the seat fabric, which is lightweight and does not require stitching. Stylists Seymourpowell developed the colour scheme for the seats, with visual cues to the flight suits, space itself, and the desert around Spaceport America. The cabin is foam-lined for comfort and safety in the weightlessness phase, and has seventeen windows, each bordered by a soft “rim” which may be used to orient oneself at a window and as a handhold to move around the cabin. Several astronauts have been consulted in the design. Sixteen on-board cameras free passengers from the need to take their own photographs, enabling them to concentrate on enjoying the experience, and their can see themselves floating in free-fall in the large mirror which covers the aft bulkhead.

George Whitesides returned to the screen to tell us of the Augmented Reality “app” which one can download to a mobile ‘phone, to inspect the details of the cabin, and to say farewell.

The video may be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC286Dnq4M4&feature=youtu.be

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