In the pic above, Richard Branson is beaming like a maniac for good reason: Behind him is SpaceShipTwo, the first commercial passenger spaceship ever, which was revealed today after two years in construction. Tonight, Governor Bill Richardson ofNew Mexico (the site of the coming Norman Foster-designed Spaceport) and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California (where most of the construction took place) will appear at a blow-out party thrown by Branson's company, Virgin Galactic, to christen the new vessel. Her name will be--what else?--the Enterprise.
This follows news from last year, unveiling WhiteKnightTwo, which will ferry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of 50,000 feet; at that point SpaceShipTwo detaches from WK2's underbelly and engages its own rockets, powering the craft to an altitude of 68 miles, or just beyond the commonly-defined edge of space. It'll have two pilots aboard, and six passengers, each of them rich enough to afford the $200,000 ticket price.
The next-step for SS2 will be test flights, which will be used to tweak and refine the design and engineering; it'll also be fitted with a new hybrid motor, currently being developed.
And then, to the stars: Virgin Galatic's first commercial flights are slated to begin sometime in 2011.
[For more pics, see Smart Planet]