Human Space Launch
Although no suborbital human-rated vehicles flew in 2009, there was considerable progress by several companies actively developing such vehicles. Among the most visible of these was the formal unveiling in December 2009 of SpaceShipTwo, a suborbital vehicle built by The Spaceship Company, a joint venture of Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites. The event culminated a year of continued development of SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo. In May 2009, Virgin Galactic announced the beginning of tests of the rocket motor that will power SpaceShipTwo on its suborbital flights. The hybrid rocket motor uses a solid fuel and liquid nitrous oxide oxidizer developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation, the company that developed the rocket motor for SpaceShipOne.
In addition to development of personal spaceflight vehicles in the United States, in July 2007 the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) announced plans to develop a suborbital vehicle to serve the personal spaceflight market. The EADS vehicle, yet to be named, would employ conventional jet engines to climb to ## kilometers (## miles) before igniting rockets to reach altitudes above ## kilometers (## miles). EADS estimates vehicle development will cost €## billion (US$## billion). The company plans to begin operation of the vehicle in 2012.
The SpaceShipTwo vehicle, scheduled to begin commercial service by 2010, is the product of The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic. The design of SpaceShipTwo is similar to that of SpaceShipOne, the only suborbital spacecraft with a demonstrated capacity for carrying humans. A carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, unveiled in July 2008, is designed to carry SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude and release the spacecraft, which will then ignite rockets to achieve suborbital altitude before returning to the Earth. SpaceShipTwo can accommodate up to six passengers and two pilots. In addition to human suborbital spaceflight, Virgin Galactic has explored the idea of launching suborbital cargoes aboard SpaceShipTwo, such as U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climatology experiments.