Exploring Virgin space

Designing the interior of the world’s first passenger spacecraft is a challenge. With technical demands unlike any other vehicle, it must also look sharp enough to justify the $200,000 price tag on tickets.


Designing the interior of the world’s first passenger spacecraft is a challenge. With technical demands unlike any other vehicle, it must also look sharp enough to justify the $200,000 (£108,000) price tag on tickets.

UK design consultant Seymourpowell’s conceptual design for the interior of Virgin Galactic’s Virgin Space Ship (VSS) combines features to stop its passengers from fainting under heavy g-forces while giving them the room to enjoy their brief period of weightlessness.

Based on the X Prize-winning SpaceShipOne (SS1), VSS is under development by SS1 designer Burt Rutan and his company, Scaled Composites. Seymourpowell’s design concept was developed in 12 weeks and, according to lead designer Richard Smith, is ‘about 80 per cent feasible’.

The VSS will be launched from a carrier craft at 45,000ft (15,000m) where VSS’s rocket motors will fire and take it to 110,000m. The Seymourpowell design concept has each of the six astronauts in seats angled at 60° during this ‘boost’ phase. ‘They’ll be under about 5g, and this angle keeps the g-force perpendicular to them,’ said Smith. ‘That stops the blood being pulled out of their heads, which would make them unconscious.’

At the top of the VSS’s trajectory, g-forces fade away, making its contents weightless. At this point, the seats swivel down to a 14° angle. ‘This maximises the volume of the cabin for the zero-g environment,’ said Smith. ‘When the passengers float around, the seats aren’t in the way.’ The cabin design has 15 windows in every surface, including the floor, for the best possible view.

The seats remain at 14° for the high-g portion of re-entry to 24,000m, again keeping the 5g force perpendicular to the passengers’ bodies, before returning to 60° as the craft levels for landing.

The Seymourpowell design concept is to be used in Virgin Galactic’s marketing for VSS. ‘We’ve been working with Scaled Composites on many of the details, and we hope that much of the flavour of the work will be taken on board for the final vehicle,’ said Smith.