WhiteKnightTwo as the Basis for a Military Reconnaissance Vehicle

Artists conception of WhiteKnightTwo and the SpaceShipTwo space tourism vehicle. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Artists conception of WhiteKnightTwo and the SpaceShipTwo space tourism vehicle. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

The War is Boring blog provides an interesting post about how the military is attempting to capitalize on work that Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic are doing in space tourism:

SUSTAIN would be two vehicles. The jet-powered mother-ship, based in the U.S. or at a secure, overseas facility, would loft a smaller, rocket-powered “lander” to high altitude — say, 50,000 feet — before launching it. The rocket would quickly boost the lander to an altitude of around 400,000 feet, just shy of the orbital threshold. On completing its mission, the lander would deploy air brakes and spiral down to a landing.

While the SUSTAIN lander would be as fast as the SR-71, reaching up to Mach 3, its major advantage is altitude. The SR-71 operated at up to 80,000 feet — higher than most of today’s surveillance drones and manned planes, such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk and U-2 Dragon Lady, but not high enough to render unnecessary the direct over-flight of enemy territory. At five times the Blackbird’s altitude, the SUSTAIN lander provides an unparalleled, responsive platform for sophisticated, long-range cameras. “If you’re up there for five to 10 minutes, you could take a high-resolution image of something that’s out on the horizon — and you don’t necessarily have to over-fly what you want to image,” says Lieutenant Colonel Paul Damphousse, the Marine Corps officer in charge of SUSTAIN’s concept development.

Read the full story.