August 4, 2008 Virgin Galactic has achieved another milestone in its push to become the world’s first private commercial spaceline with the unveiling of the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft. Built at the Scaled Composites facility in Mojave, California, the twin fuselage WK2 is a formidable engineering feat. It is the world’s largest all carbon composite aircraft and the main wing, which spans 140 ft, is the longest single carbon composite aviation component ever built. Christened “EVE” in honor of Sir Richard Branson's mother, the aircraft can can fly across the US non-stop and reach altitudes of 50,000 ft - the height from which SpaceShipTwo (SS2) will be air launched.
WK2 is expected to begin its planned 12-18 months of flight testing this year ahead of the roll-out of SpaceShipTwo, which is said to be "well on its way to completion", in 2009.
The unveiling was carried out by Virgin Founder, Sir Richard Branson and X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne designer, Burt Rutan with more than 100 people who have already signed up for the sub-orbital flights flights.
“WhiteKnightTwo represents the apogee of the application of carbon composites to aerospace and all of us at Scaled are tremendously excited at the capabilities of the Mothership for SpaceShipTwo," said Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan. "I believe the vehicle will be developed and sold for a variety of launch applications beyond the initial requirements of our launch customer, Virgin Galactic.“
Powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A engines, WK2 has the heavy lift capabilities necessary for its role as a "ferry" for SpaceShipTwo and will also be used as a platform for pre space-flight, positive G force and zero G astronaut training. When fully operational WK2 will be able to support up to four daily space flights and undertake both day and night time operations.
Virgin Galactic have not attempted to nail down an exact timetable at this stage but if all goes to plan, this should be in the late 2010/2011 ballpark. The program will encompass science packages and payload delivery into space as well as catering for private astronauts. Interested? Tickets start at US$200,000.