Here's the new SpaceShipTwo, unveiled today by space tourist pioneer Burt Rutan. Like SpaceShipOne, the new ship will ferry tourists to the edge of space on Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson's new venture. 2008 will be "the year of the spaceship," promised Branson. WhiteKnightTwo, a four-engine plane, lifts the spaceship high into the sky, and then it burns a mixture of nitrous oxide and rubber-based fuel to make it up to the black. Click through for a video of SpaceShipOne, the original Virgin Galactic ship.
The new system will be "hundreds of times" safer than current space travel, says Rutan. That will bring it up to the safety standards of commercial air travel in the 1920s. "Don't believe anyone who tells you that the safety level of new spaceships will be as safe as the modern airliner," he adds. His company already lost three engineers in an explosion during a "cold" test of the nitrous system last summer. [NYTimes, via Mark Pritchard]