December 23, 2008 WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), the carrier aircraft that will become the launch platform for Virgin Galactic's sub-orbital spaceline has taken to the skies over California in its maiden test flight. Powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A turbofan engines, the mammoth, 140-foot wingspan carbon composite aircraft launched from the Mojave Air and Space Port on Sunday morning and completed an hour long test flight without a hitch.
Christened “EVE”, the twin fuselage WK2 will undergo a further series of test flights before it is flown with SpaceShipTwo (SS2) attached. When the planned private space travel program gets underway (a launch has not yet been finalized but its expected to be around 2010/11) WK2 will ferry SS2 to a height of 50,000 ft before air launching it into sub-orbital flight.
Both aircraft are built by Scaled Composites, the company lead by Burt Rutan that took out the $10 million Ansari X Prize in October 2004 with SpaceShipOne, the aircraft on which SS2 is based.
Virgin Galactic is currently taking reservations for the USD$200,000 ride of a lifetime.